A team of scientists led by Southwest Research Institute found two young craters in the moon’s darkest regions. Their study cites that one crater is 16 million years old while the other is between 75 and 420 million years old.

The discoveries were made possible by using the institute’s Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP), an instrument aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that uses ultraviolet light to see the moon’s terrain. The team observed that the two sites that are brighter and rougher than the surrounding area near the moon’s south pole are actually craters.

The research team explains that craters, which can be several kilometres wide, are a result of collisions between objects in the solar system that occurred during the system’s development. For this reason, the craters are good candidates to shed light on how the solar system and other objects in it formed.


The crater on the right is 16 million years old while the one on the left is between 75 and 420 million years old. Credit: NASA GSFC/ASU Jmoon.

“These ‘young’ impact craters are a really exciting discovery,” adds Kathleen Mandt, a senior research scientist at Southwest Research Institute. “Finding geologically young craters and honing in on their age helps us understand the collision history in the solar system.”

Moreover, geologically younger craters can also provide more details about the collisions’ frequency. The surface of a young crater contains rough rubble and condensed dust, which will be covered with dark dust by weathering over millions of years.

“Discovering these two craters and a new way to detect young craters in the most mysterious regions of the moon is particularly exciting,” says Mandt.”This method will be useful not only on the moon, but also on other interesting bodies, including Mercury, the dwarf planet Ceres, and the asteroid Vesta.”

The study named “LRO-LAMP Detection of Geologically Young Craters within Lunar Permanently Shaded Regions” was funded by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project. It is now available online in the journal Icarus.