The Fountains of the Great Deep
Figure 4: Near and Far Sides of the Moon. Today, the same side of the Moon always faces Earth during the Moon’s monthly orbit. Surprisingly, the near and far sides of the Moon are quite different. Almost all deep moonquakes are on the near side.11 The surface of the far side is rougher, while the near side has most of the Moon’s volcanic features, lava flows, dome complexes, and giant, multiringed basins. Lava flows (darker regions) have smoothed over many craters on the near side.12 Some have proposed that the Moon’s crust must be thinner on the near side, so lava can squirt out more easily on the near side than on the far side. However, no seismic, gravity, or heat flow measurements support that hypothesis, and the deeper lunar interior is cold and solid. The Moon’s density throughout is almost as uniform as that of a billiard ball,13 showing that little distinctive crust exists. Not only did large impacts form the giant basins, but much of their impact energy melted rock and generated lava flows. This is why the lava flows came after the craters formed. These impacts appear to have happened recently. [See “Hot Moon” on page 40.]
Contemporaries of Galileo misnamed these lava flows “maria” (MAHR-ee-uh), or “seas,” because these dark areas looked smooth and filled low-lying regions. Maria give the Earth Moon its “man-in-the-moon” appearance. Of the Moon’s 31 giant basins, only 11 are on 14 the far side. (See if you can flip 31 coins and get 11 or fewer tails. Not too likely. It happens only about 7% of the time.) Why should the near side have so many more giant impact features, almost all the maria,15 and almost all deep moonquakes? Opposite sides of Mars and Mercury are also different.16 If the impacts that produced these volcanic features occurred slowly from any or all directions, all sides would be equally hit. Only if the impacts occurred rapidly from a specific direction would large impact features be concentrated on one side of the Moon. Of course, large impacts would kick up millions of smaller rocks that would themselves create impacts or go into orbit around the Moon and later create other impacts—even on Earth. Today, both sides of the Moon are saturated with smaller craters. Were the large lunar impactors launched from Earth? Apparently. The Moon as a whole has relatively few volatile elements, such as nitrogen, hydrogen, and the noble gases. Surprisingly, lunar soil contains these elements—and water17—all implying that they came from Earth. The relative abundances of isotopes of these elements in lunar soils correspond not to the solar wind but to what is found on Earth.18 If large impactors came from Earth recently, most moonquakes should be on the near side, and they should still be occurring. They are.11 11. “For unclear reasons, deep moonquakes seem largely confined to the side of the moon facing Earth.” Elizabeth Svoboda, “New Computers Uncover Old Quakes on the Moon,” Discover, Vol. 27, January 2006, p. 38.
Seismometers left on the Moon during each Apollo landing recorded 12,500 seismic events. Then, in 1977, NASA turned the seismometers off. The moonquakes have now been reanalyzed using more powerful methods. Conclusion: Even after making the most adverse assumptions, most deep moonquakes were on the near side of the Moon and were clustered near the central portion of the near side. [See Yosio Nakamura, “Farside Deep Moonquakes and Deep Interior of the Moon,” Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 110, 18 January 2005, E01001.]
The Origin of Comets
13. A uniform ball of mass M and radius R has a moment of inertia about any diameter of 0.4000 MR2. The Moon’s polar moment of inertia is (0.3935 ± 0.0011) MR2—almost the same. [See J. O. Dickey et al., “Lunar Laser Ranging: A Continuing Legacy of the Apollo Program,” Science, Vol. 265, 22 July 1994, p. 487.] Of course, pressure and density must increase with depth. This accounts for the Moon’s moment of inertia being slightly less than that of a uniform ball. Little room is left over for a light crust. 14. Nicholas M. Short, Planetary Geology (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975), p. 87. 15. “In contrast, the far side [of the Moon] almost completely lacks maria.” Paul D. Spudis, “The New Moon,” Scientific American, Vol. 289, December 2003, p. 89. 16. “A major surprise in the early days of lunar exploration was the discovery that the soft maria visible from earth were far more rare on the moon’s farside, presumably because of some one-sided influence of the earth. Now refinements of Mariner 9 data show one hemisphere of Mars to be far rougher than the other, and Mariner 10 suggests the same asymmetry for Mercury. Data files grow, observes Bruce Murray of the California Institute of Technology, yet so does the mystery of hemispherical asymmetry. ‘We now know,’ he says, ‘a little less about the moon.’ ” Jonathan Eberhart, “The
12. “Astronomers were stunned by the first images of the moon’s farside, captured by the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 in 1959. The two hemispheres seemed like different worlds. The face we see [on Earth] has fewer large craters and far greater areas of smooth, dark, frozen lava. Nobody really knows why.” Bob Berman, “Worlds Out of Balance,” Discover, Vol. 24, December 2003, p. 38.
Shadows in Figure 4 accentuate craters near the day-night boundary and minimize the appearance of craters on the near side. However, the Moon’s near side is smoother than the far side, for reasons given in Figure 4’s caption.
The Origin of Comets 269
Mystery of the Hemispheres,” Science News, Vol. 105, 13 April 1974, p. 241. 17. Tiny beads of lunar basalt contain about 745 parts per million of water. As impacting comets and asteroids buried themselves deeply in what is now the Moon’s near side, the water-ice in those impactors mixed with the instantly created magma. Minutes or hours later, some of that magma erupted as a spray of droplets. Water molecules (and carbon, sulphur, chlorine, and fluorine) were diffusing out of the droplets as they solidified. [See Alberto E. Saal et al., “Volatile Content of Lunar Volcanic Glasses and the
Presence of Water in the Moon’s Interior,” Nature, Vol. 454, 10 July 2008, pp. 192–194.] The D/H ratio found in apatite grains brought back by the Apollo programs matches that of comets, not earth. [See J. P. Greenwood et al., “Water in Apollo Rock Samples and the D/H of Lunar Apatite,” Proceedings of the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 2 March 2010, No. 2439.]
18. M. Ozima et al., “Terrestrial Nitrogen and Noble Gases in Lunar Soils,” Nature, Vol. 436, 4 August 2005, pp. 655–659.
The Origin of Comets