If Picasso Had Painted in Black and White … on the Moon

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 13 2013 8:00 AM

Brushstrokes of Impact

Astronomy and art are strongly intertwined.

Perhaps art is just a way we interpret input to our brains; sound as music, light as images, chemistry as taste and smell. I think that may be a bit too reductive, but still, it’s difficult to argue that we must separate art and science when you see pictures like this:

crater on the Moon
A small, unnamed, but quite lovely crater on the Moon. Click to jacksonpollockenate.

Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Advertisement

That is a crater on the Moon, shot by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It’s roughly 1,000 meters across (0.6 miles) and located near the wall of a much larger crater called Darwin C.

The splashy pattern is, in fact, a splash pattern! When the small asteroid or comet that created this crater slammed into the Moon, a lot of material (called ejecta) was blown out. Material at different depths has different compositions, which is probably why you see the different shades of gray through the ejecta; plumes of material were thrown out and overlaid each other to create that pattern. As formations like this age they change color too (exposure to sunlight and micrometeorite impacts over billions of years can do that), but the crater here is probably young. And by young, I mean tens or hundreds of millions of years old. Things change slowly on the Moon.

crater,crater on the Moon

Normally, judging from the splash pattern, I’d guess the impactor came in from the lower right. But it turns out this isn’t a flat surface: The darker region running diagonally from the bottom center to the upper right of the image is actually where the inner wall of Darwin C flattens out into the crater floor (the wall is on the right, the floor on the left). So the smaller, unnamed crater is actually on the floor of Darwin C but only a few hundred meters from the wall.

That makes it a bit harder to figure out what’s what. The impact could have been vertical, but the wall of the bigger crater stopped the material from expanding to the right, so it all blew to the upper left. Note that the smaller crater is asymmetric; the rim is sharp on the right, but crumbly and overrun with debris on the left. I wonder … the left side of the small crater is facing the wall and would have caught the debris reflecting off it like the windshield of a car facing into the rain. The right hand side is tilted so that it would catch less of that debris. That’s how it looks to me, at least, and I could be wrong.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

I love this sort of thing, the speculating and sleuthing of events from a single picture of an alien world. I’m no expert, but it’s fun, and to be honest I could probably sit and listen for hours to someone explaining all this stuff.

And it doesn’t hurt at all that the pictures are just so overwhelmingly beautiful. This crater was born in violence and sculpted in chaos, but what has remained for countless eons is frozen beauty.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 10:41 AM Taylor Swift Just Went to No. 1 on iTunes Canada With 8 Seconds of Static 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.