Early in the development of the moon, it was covered in an ocean of magma that covered its entire surface. Over time, that magma cooled and solidified with more dense material sinking to form the mantle layer, with the less dense material floating to the top forming the crust. The moon has been subjected to intense bombardment by asteroids and comets over its lifetime, some of which were able to pierce the crust and blasts pieces of the mantle from the moon’s interior, and scatter them across its surface.
NASA conducted a pair of recent studies that identify the most likely location to find pieces of the mantle on the moon’s surface. The study provided a map that will be used for future lunar sample return missions, some of which are part of the Artemis program. NASA believes that if it can collect and analyze fragments from deep inside the moon’s interior, it can better understand how the moon, Earth, and other solar system planets evolved.
Daniel Moriarty, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, says the new study provide the most up-to-date evaluation of the evolution of the lunar interior. The evaluation synthesizes numerous recent developments giving an improved overall picture of the history of the mantle and how and where it may have been exposed on the lunar surface. The formation of magma oceans and their evolution are believed to be a common process among rocky planets and moons throughout the solar system and the universe.
Since the moon is the most accessible and well-preserved body to study those fundamental processes, NASA is attempting to conduct in-depth investigations. Details on how magma oceans evolve as they cool and how various minerals crystallize are unclear. Scientists believe how the minerals crystallize impacts mantle rocks and how they appear and where they can be found on the surface.
The team used recent laboratory experiments, lunar sample analysis, and geophysical and geochemical models to better understand how the lunar mantle evolved as it cooled and solidified. The data was used as a lens to interpret observations of the lunar surface from the NASA Lunar Prospector and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA says that the Aitkin basin is the largest confirmed impact structure on the moon, measuring about 1600 miles across. It’s associated with the deepest depth of excavation of all basins and is the most likely place to find pieces of the mantle.