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Lunar gravity map reveals new information about the solar system's formative years


Red areas indicate sections of mass excesses, while blue corresponds to deficiencies (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT/GSFC)
Red areas indicate sections of mass excesses, while blue corresponds to deficiencies (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT/GSFC)

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

December 6, 2012 — It may look like a jawbreaker candy, but what you're seeing is not of this world.

Scientists hope the gravity map will provide a better understanding of how Earth formed (courtesy: NASA)
Scientists hope the gravity map will provide a better understanding of how Earth formed (courtesy: NASA)

NASA and MIT have used microwave measurements and algorithms to create a gravitational map of the moon.

The data features colour-coded variations in the lunar gravity field.

Red areas indicate sections of mass excesses, while blue corresponds to deficiencies.

The information was captured during NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission between March and May of this year.

Twin spacecraft named Ebb and Flow have been orbiting the moon and recording gravitational data.

This also allowed scientists to take a look inside the moon.

The data allowed scientists to take a look inside the moon, revealing a crushed core
The data allowed scientists to take a look inside the moon, revealing a crushed core

Researchers were "startled" when the findings revealed a crushed core, indicating that the formation of the solar system was more violent that previously thought.

It is now believed that the moon was pummelled by asteroids and other space debris when the solar system was in its formative years.

“It was known that planets were battered by impacts, but nobody had envisioned that the [moon’s] crust was so beaten up,” said MIT’s Maria Zuber, E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT, in a press briefing.

"This is a really big surprise, and is going to cause a lot of people to think about what this means for planetary evolution.” 

Scientists hope the findings will provide a better understanding of how the earth - and the planets around it - formed. 

The research was published this week in Science.

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