Team puts Earhart on the moon with discovery of new crater

March 17, 2015 by Elizabeth K. Gardner
Team puts Earhart on the moon with discovery of new crater
The Earhart crater, a previously unknown lunar crater, is outlined in the magenta dash circle. A team of researchers at Purdue University found the crater through an analysis of data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission. The team provisionally named the crater Earhart, after the famous aviator Amelia Earhart. Credit: Rohan Sood

The discovery of a massive, 124-mile-wide crater on the moon was announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on Monday (March 16).

A team of researchers at Purdue University found the crater through an analysis of data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission, which captured an unprecedented, detailed map of the distribution of masses in the .

The team provisionally named the crater Earhart, after the famous aviator Amelia Earhart. Names of planetary features must be submitted and approved by The International Astronomical Union.

Although some of this crater is visible at the surface of the moon, most of it is buried and could only be seen through gravity signatures captured during the GRAIL mission, said Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, who led the research.

"This is one of the biggest craters on the moon, but no one knew it was there," said Melosh, who also is a member of the GRAIL science team. "Craters are named after explorers or scientists, and Amelia Earhart had not yet received this honor. She attempted a flight around the world, and we thought she deserved to make it all the way to the moon for inspiring so many future explorers and astronauts."

The team was testing a new technique that sharpens the GRAIL data to see smaller-scale features, like ridges and valleys, when they noticed an unusual circular feature, said Rohan Sood, a graduate student in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics who worked on the project and presented the findings.

"The feature turned out to be the rim of an ancient crater, but it was so big we did not even recognize it as that at first," Sood said. "We were zoomed in on one little piece of it. We first tried to model it as a small , but we had to go bigger and bigger and bigger to match what the data was telling us."

The finding validates the team's technique, and the group plans to extend the search to the entire moon to reveal other buried craters and small-scale features beneath the surface, Sood said. The search could uncover underground tunnels formed by lava flows, called lava tubes, which have been discussed as a possible shelter for human habitats on the moon.

In addition to Melosh and Sood, team members include Loic Chappaz, a graduate student in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Kathleen Howell, Purdue's Hsu Lo Professor of Aeronatuical and Astronautical Engineering; Colleen Milbury, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; and David Blair, a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Earhart was a Purdue career counselor and adviser to the Department of Aeronautics from 1935-1937, and Purdue is home to the world's largest compilation of Earhart-related papers, memorabilia and artifacts. The collection includes documents related to Earhart's 1932 solo Atlantic flight, her second and fatal attempt at a world flight in 1937, and items related to her time at Purdue.

Explore further: Super-Earth unlikely able to transfer life to other planets

Related Stories

Gravity changes along the Moon

April 6, 2012

Using detailed topographic information from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, Curtin’s Western Australian School of Mines (WASM) spatial scientists, Dr. Christian Hirt and Professor Will Featherstone, ...

Recommended for you

China unveils 2020 Mars rover concept: report

August 24, 2016

China has unveiled illustrations of a Mars probe and rover it aims to send to the Red Planet at the end of the decade in a mission that faces "unprecedented" challenges, state media said on Wednesday.

Test for damp ground at Mars streaks finds none

August 24, 2016

Seasonal dark streaks on Mars that have become one of the hottest topics in interplanetary research don't hold much water, according to the latest findings from a NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Fossilized rivers suggest warm, wet ancient Mars

August 23, 2016

Extensive systems of fossilised riverbeds have been discovered on an ancient region of the Martian surface, supporting the idea that the now cold and dry Red Planet had a warm and wet climate about 4 billion years ago, according ...

What do aliens look like? The clue is in evolution

August 19, 2016

Speculating about what aliens look like has kept children, film producers and scientists amused for decades. If they exist, will extra terrestrials turn out to look similar to us, or might they take a form beyond our wildest ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

weaver10078
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
I believe if any physical portion of Amelia is ever found , that some of her dna should be placed on the moon, as a loving gesture.....I think she would have liked that.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.