Recently space scientists have detected a giant, unexplained mass of metal under a crater that covers nearly a quarter of the moon’s surface. It is leaving scientists, and the rest of the world, intrigued but baffled. Here’s what we know.

Incredible facts about the find

The mass of metal was found by researchers at Baylor University using two sets of detailed data from NASA missions. The analysis places the mass on the South Pole-Aitken Basin, an enormous crater that covers nearly 25 percent of our moon’s surface. The mass is said to be five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii, larger than Denmark, and estimated to weigh 4.8 quintillion pounds. That’s enough to cause a significant gravitational anomaly in the area of the mass. In addition, the mass is so large that it is depressing the floor of the basin downward by 800 meters, about ten percent of its total depth.

Theories on what caused the mass

While researchers aren’t quite sure what caused the metal to be there, they have a few working theories. The first is that it is the result of an asteroid collision that could have formed the basin about four billion years ago. Under just the right conditions, metal from the asteroid could remain below the lunar surface but well above the moon’s core, just where scientists discovered this mass. Some computer simulations support this theory.

The second series of events that could explain the metal has to do with what the moon was like in its earliest stages of formation. At that point, the moon was believed to be molten hot with areas of magma and a high concentration of titanium oxides. When the magma cooled, these oxides converted to a metal that would have had a significant mass, just like what Baylor’s researchers have identified. One problem with this theory, however, is explaining just how the oxides would have become concentrated in the Aitken Basin. No one is quite sure how that could have happened.

As the discovery of the metal mass was first announced, many people wondered if it might have alien origins. That’s one theory you can safely rule out. According to scientists, one of the other two scenarios offers a much more likely explanation.

Learning more about the moon

This incredible find is stoking scientists’ appetite to continue to learn more about the moon and how it was formed. A lot of the learning can start at the Aitken Basin, which, at 1550 miles across, is the largest known impact crater in our solar system. There’s a treasure trove of information that can help researchers understand what the moon consists of and how it was formed.

The discovery of the mass itself is helping researchers to develop new theories about Earth’s satellite. For starters, it suggests that the moon’s core is dense enough to prevent objects from sinking into it, even objects that are as heavy as the metal mass just identified. It also suggests that the moon may have lost quite a bit of its temperature over time.

There may be a lot of future opportunities for humans to deepen their knowledge of the moon. China has landed its Yutu2 moon rover on the far side of the moon and American efforts to make a return visit to our nearest space neighbor are heating up. Those visits will undoubtedly result in significant amounts of moon samples and data that can be compared to this and other studies. As it turns out, humans may be heading into a new and exciting frontier for gaining knowledge of our nearest space neighbor.