The 'Man In The Moon' Mystery Has Finally Been Solved

A topographic map of the Moon (low elevations in purple, high in red) shows extensive lava flows in Oceanus Procellarum. Image: Jay Dickson / Brown University

A volcanic plume and not an asteroid is the likely cause of the moon’s largest basin, according to data obtained by NASA’s GRAIL mission.

The Procellarum region on the near side of the moon, a giant basin often referred to as the Man in the Moon, likely arose from magma deep within the moon’s interior.

The region is a roughly circular, volcanic area about 2,900 kms across.

One theory suggested it was formed by a massive impact which would have made it the largest impact basin on the moon.

Now researchers from MIT, the Colorado School of Mines and other institutions have created a high-resolution map of the Procellarum and found that its border is not circular

It’s actually composed of sharp angles which could not have been created by a massive asteroid.

The researchers believe the angular outline was produced by giant tension cracks in the moon’s crust as it cooled around an upwelling plume of hot material from the deep interior.

Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, says that as cracks occurred, they formed a “plumbing system” in the moon’s crust through which magma could meander to the surface.

Magma eventually filled the region’s smaller basins, creating what we see today as dark spots on the near side of the moon, features which have inspired the popular notion of a Man in the Moon.

“A lot of things in science are really complicated, but I’ve always loved to answer simple questions,” says Zuber.

“How many people have looked up at the moon and wondered what produced the pattern we see — let me tell you, I’ve wanted to solve that one.”

Zuber and her colleagues have published their results in the journal Nature.

The team mapped the Procellarum region using data obtained by GRAIL, twin probes which orbited the moon from January to December 2012.

The full moon as seen from Earth. Gravitational anomalies surround the Procellarum region are superimposed in red. New research suggests these anomalies were once the source of a massive lava flow on the Moon. Image: Kopernik Observatory/NASA/Colorado School of Mines/MIT/JPL/Goddard Space Flight Center

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