First global map of rockfalls on the Moon

Related Articles

Related Articles

In October 2015, a spectacular rockfall occurred in the Swiss Alps: in the late morning hours, a large, snow-covered block with a volume of more than 1500 cubic meters suddenly detached from the summit of Mel de la Niva.

It fell apart on its way downslope, but a number of boulders continued their journey into the valley. One of the large boulders came to a halt at the foot of the summit next to a mountain hut, after travelling more than 1.4 kilometers and cutting through woods and meadows.

On the Moon, time and again boulders and blocks of rock travel downslope, leaving behind impressive tracks, a phenomenon that has been observed since the first unmanned flights to the Moon in the 1960s. During the Apollo missions, astronauts examined a few such tracks on site and returned displaced rock block samples to Earth. However, until a few years ago, it remained difficult to gain an overview of how widespread such rock movements are and where exactly they occur.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany and ETH Zurich have analyzed an archive of more than two million images of the lunar surface and present the first global map of rockfalls on the Moon in today’s edition of Nature Communications.

“The vast majority of displaced boulders on the Moon have a diameter of between seven and ten meters,” explains Valentin Bickel of MPS and ETH Zurich, first author of the new study. “Earlier space probes that have studied the Moon were unable to detect such small features on a global scale,” he adds. It was not until 2010, with the launch of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, that imagery of the entire lunar surface, with the necessary spatial resolution and coverage, has been available.

The result is a map of the lunar surface between 80 degrees northern and southern latitude that shows 136,610 rockfalls with diameters of more than two and a half meters. “For the first time, this map enables us to systematically analyze the occurrence and causes of rockfalls on another celestial body”, says Dr. Urs Mall from MPS.


Subscribe to more articles like this by following our Google Discovery feed - Click the follow button on your desktop or the star button on mobile. Subscribe

Previously, scientists had assumed that lunar quakes in particular were responsible for the displacement of boulders. The new global map of rockfalls indicates that impacts from asteroids may play a much more important role. They are apparently – directly or indirectly – responsible for more than 80 percent of all observed rockfalls.

“Most of the rockfalls are found near crater walls,” says Prof. Dr. Simon Loew of ETH Zurich. Some of the boulders are displaced soon after the impact, others much later. The researchers hypothesize that impacts cause a network of cracks that extend in the underlying bedrock. Parts of the surface can thus become unstable even after very long periods of time.

Surprisingly, even in the oldest lunar landscapes, which formed up to 4 billion years ago or even earlier, traces of rockfall events can be found. Since such imprints would typically disappear after a few million years, these surfaces are apparently still subject to erosion through rockfall, even billions of years after they were formed.

“Apparently, impacts influence and modify the geology of a region over very, very long time scales,” says Bickel. The results also suggest that very old surfaces on other airless bodies such as Mercury or the large asteroid Vesta may still be evolving as well.

ETH ZURICH

Header Image – A falling boulder has left a clear trace on the lunar surface. Credit : NASA/GSFC/ASU

- Advertisement -

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Pella – Birthplace of Alexander The Great

Pella is an archaeological site and the historical capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon.

New Argentine fossils uncover history of celebrated conifer group

Newly unearthed, surprisingly well-preserved conifer fossils from Patagonia, Argentina, show that an endangered and celebrated group of tropical West Pacific trees has roots in the ancient supercontinent that once comprised Australia, Antarctica and South America, according to an international team of researchers.

High-tech CT reveals ancient evolutionary adaptation of extinct crocodylomorphs

The tree of life is rich in examples of species that changed from living in water to a land-based existence.

Fish fossils become buried treasure

Rare metals crucial to green industries turn out to have a surprising origin. Ancient global climate change and certain kinds of undersea geology drove fish populations to specific locations.

Archaeologists Discover Viking Toilet in Denmark

Archaeologists excavating a settlement on the Stevns Peninsula in Denmark suggests they have discovered a toilet from the Viking Age.

Innovation by ancient farmers adds to biodiversity of the Amazon, study shows

Innovation by ancient farmers to improve soil fertility continues to have an impact on the biodiversity of the Amazon, a major new study shows.

Lost Shiva Temple Buried in Sand Discovered by Local Villagers

Villagers from the Perumallapadu village in the Pradesh’s Nellore district of India have unearthed the 300-year-old Temple of Nageswara Swamy on the banks of the Penna River.

Ma’rib – Capital of the Kingdom of Saba

Ma'rib is an archaeological site and former capital of the ancient kingdom of Saba in modern-day Ma'rib in Yemen

Giant Egg Discovered in Antarctica Belonged to Marine Reptile

A large fossil discovered in Antarctica by Chilean researchers in 2011 has been found to be a giant, soft-shell egg from 66 million years ago.

Archaeologists Find Evidence of Incest Among Irelands Early Elite at Newgrange Passage Tomb

Archaeologists working with Geneticists from the Trinity College Dublin have determined that a burial in the Newgrange passage tomb shows indications of first-degree incest.

Popular stories