Now, before we get started on this one, I have a confession: I wasn't originally going to blog about this story at all. What changed my mind was the fact that so many regular contributors of articles here noticed the story, and passed it along. Clearly, something about it had the readers of this website exercised, and as you may or may not know, when I get large "pattern trends" of emails focusing on a story, I usually do blog about it. So, with a thank you to all of you who sent this story along, let's get started.
Scientists are now confirming that there's a strange mass anomaly under the moon's south pole, and they're attributing it to an iron-and-nickel rich asteroid that crashed into the planet approximately three billion years ago:
As the first article notes, mass anomalies have been observed on the Moon since the 1960s, and they are usually associated with craters:
The data give a loose picture of what's happening both on the surface and underground. The more mass there is, like higher topography or denser rocks, the stronger the gravity. These maps highlight a striking difference between most of the moon's large craters and the South Pole-Aitken basin.
Other large craters have what are known as mascons, short for mass concentrations. Discovered in 1968 by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mascons show up in gravity maps as bullseyes—a central circle of strong gravity surrounded by a ring of weak gravity and then another ring of stronger gravity. The phenomenon is a consequence of the way low-density crust and high-density mantle adjust after an impact.
The trouble is, this mass anomaly at the South lunar pole is much bigger than previously thought. In fact, it's some 1500 miles wide. According to the second article, the real problemis not just it's size, but what it is:
"Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected." That's Peter B. James of Baylor University talking about a gigantic anomaly found beneath the Moon's surface. He's the lead author of a study published in Geophysical Research Letters describing the odd find. There are a few theories about what it could be.
The thing sits beneath the Moon's South Pole-Aitken basin, believed to be the largest intact crater in our solar system. The oval-shaped feature is thought to be about 4 billion years old, and it's big: about 2,000 kilometers across at some points.
Here's where it gets interesting, for in speculating on what it may be, the second article lists a number of possibilities:
The two most likely theories are that it's the iron-nickel core of a long-ago asteroid impact, or that it's a leftover clump of dense oxides from the cooling of the Moon's magma. Or, sure, a giant spaceship or hidden underground civilization, ahem.
It's that last joking possibility that, I suspect, was the center of everyone's attention on this story, and it is a strange thing to mention in an otherwise serious but somewhat dull article about asteroid impacts on the Moon. By mentioning it - even as a joke - I'm sure it was intended to draw people like me to it to speculate about it like flies to honey.
OK, I'm game; I'll bite and speculate. Consider the following timeline:
(1) From roughly February of 1994 to May of 1995, the USA's Clementine mission orbited the Moon, busily snapping pictures for the first complete photogrammetric mapping of that planet since the early days of the space race. Notably, Clementine was a joint mission of NASA and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the re-named institution that was initially President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. In other words, Clementine was a military mission, and given the nature of the sensors and mapping it did, plus the fact of its name - "Clementine" - recalling the mining-gold rush song ("in a cavern in a canyon excavating..." &c &c), one may reasonably speculate that Clementine was also trying to pinpoint those mass anomalies precisely for the purpose of eventual mining operations. Given that one of the images it took was precisely of the southern lunar pole, one may also reasonably assume that the massive mass anomaly was detected by it;
(2) Then, in 2009, we had the launch of the much-ballyhooed NASA "LCROSS" mission, which was to send one of its stages crashing into a crater in the southern polar region of the Moon so that scientists could snap pictures of the resulting plume from the kinetic impact, and determine if there was water lurking in the bottom of lunar polar craters. In fact, NASA played up the mission by hyping the idea that the impact would be visible on Earth. Many people gazed up, waiting for the flash of the impact, and ... nothing. The stage had impacted, but according to an analysis of Richard C. Hoagland, the impact may have occurred in the roof of a hollow chamber, thus confining most of the visible light inside of the hollow. The small visible signature of the impact was consistent with this view. (Mr. Hoagland also maintained that the most sensational picture from the LRO-LCROSS mission was this picture displaying a highly anomalous yellow Lunar LIM: LCROSS LRO Lunar LIM Picture).
So herewith my high octane speculation, which makes two assumptions: firstly, that the Clementine and LCROSS missions are intimately related, with the real mission of LCROSS not simply to detect water, but the presence of high concentrations of heavy metals in the southern polar region via the impact plume of the LCROSS mission. As a corollary of this purpose, one would also be trying to test for the idea that, if heavy metals are present, are they present in such a quality and degree as to indicate and intelligent, rather than merely natural, source for them. Secondly, those two missions are in turn related to this story of the mass anomaly at the southern pole.
In effect, what we may have just seen is that the beginning of the story - the mass anomaly itself, which perfectly connects and rationalizes the Clementine and LCROSS stories - has been deliberately withheld until now, and presented as a bit of unconnected "data" to the earlier events. In short, they've known about this mass anomaly for quite some time because Clementine in all likelihood alerted them to it. And depending on the results of that LCROSS spectroscopy, they may also know what ultimately is the cause of that mass anomaly: an asteroid, or (to quote the second article) "a giant spaceship or hidden underground civilization, ahem."
See you on the flip side...