What is the massive thing under the Moon’s surface?

A surprise on the far side of the Moon.

  • Scientists detect a gigantic, underground, metallic anomaly down a crater on the Moon.
  • "Whatever it is, wherever it came from," it looks to be billions of years old.
  • It's probably the remains of an asteroid that hit the Moon.

"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.

Mystery mass

Image source: CNSA/CLEP

China's Yutu-2 rover departs from the Chang'e-4 lander on the Moon's far side.

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. Situated on the far side of the Moon, it can't be directly seen from Earth. Even so, James calls it, "one of the best natural laboratories for studying catastrophic impact events, an ancient process that shaped all of the rocky planets and moons we see today."

In studying the basin, James and his colleagues pored through data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission to document changes in the strength of the Moon's gravity. "When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter," says James, "we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin." He says "whatever it is, wherever it came from," it's pulling down the floor of the crater by more than half a mile.

So, erm, what is it?

Peter B. James.

Image source: Baylor University

Peter B. James.

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.

James says, "We did the math and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon's mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon's core."

It's an intriguing find, and with ongoing international efforts to study the Moon's far side — such as China's Chang'e 4 mission — we look forward to further insights on this huge anomaly.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Robot pizza delivery coming later this year from Domino's

The pizza giant Domino's partners with a Silicon Valley startup to start delivering pizza by robots.

Nuro
Technology & Innovation
  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
  • The trial run will begin in Houston later this year.
  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: