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Gravity maps of moon reveal deeply fractured crust

Published on Dec 6, 2012 11:53 AM
This graphic depicting the crustal thickness of the moon was generated using gravity data from NASA's GRAIL mission and topography data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The measurements match those found via seismic data at the NASA Apollo mission 12 and 14 landing sites, where crustal thickness is 19 miles (30 kilometers). There is a minimum crustal thickness less than 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) within the nearside Crisium and far side Moscoviense impact basins. The average thickness of the crust is 21 miles (34 kilometers), which is almost 12 miles (20 kilometers) thinner than values from previous studies.  Data are presented in two Lambert azimuthal equal-area projections centered over the near (left) and far side (right) hemispheres, with each image covering 75 percent of the lunar surface. PHOTO: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ IPGP

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Asteroids and comets colliding with the moon not only pitted its surface but also severely fractured its crust, researchers with NASA said on Wednesday, in a finding that could help crack a Martian puzzle.

On Mars, similar fracturing would have given water on the surface a way to penetrate deep in the ground, where it may remain today, they said.

"Mars might have had an ancient ocean and we're all wondering where it went. Well, that ocean could well be underground," planetary scientist Maria Zuber, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

The discovery that the moon's crust is deeply fractured came from a pair of small probes that comprise NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission. The identical spacecraft have been following each other around the moon for nearly a year.

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