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22.3 Earth Science : Earth’s Moon. Earth’s Moo n. Earth’s Moon. Earth now has hundreds of satellites. Only one natural satellite, the moon, accompanies us on our annual journey around the sun.

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22.3 Earth Science : Earth’s Moon


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    1. 22.3 Earth Science : Earth’s Moon Earth’s Moon

    2. Earth’s Moon • Earth now has hundreds of satellites. Only one natural satellite, the moon, accompanies us on our annual journey around the sun. • Other planets, such as Jupiter, have moons as well. Our planet-satellite system however is unique because Earth’s moon is so large when compared to the parent planet. • The diameter of the moon is 3475 kilometers, about 1/4th of Earth’s diameter of 12,756 kilometers.

    3. Earth’s Moon • Much of what we know about the moon comes from data gathered by the Apollo moon missions. • Between 1969 and 1972, six Apollo spacecraft landed on the moon. • Unmanned spacecraft with robotic units, such as the Lunar Prospector, have also been used to explore the moon’ surface.

    4. Earth’s Moon • From the calculation of the moon’s mass, we know that it’s density is 3.3 times the density of water. • This density is comparable to the mantle rocks on Earth. • But this is still very much less than Earth’s average density, which is 5.5 times the density of water.

    5. Earth’s Moon • Geologists have suggested that the difference between the moon’s density and Earth’s average density can be accounted for if the moon’s iron core is small. • The gravitational attraction (Gravity) of the moon’s surface is 1/6th of that experienced on Earth’s surface. • A 150 pound person on earth would weigh only 25 pounds on the moon. • This difference allows astronauts to carry heavy life-support equipment around with them allowing them to walk on the lunar surface.

    6. Earth’s Moon The Lunar Surface: • When Galileo first pointed his telescope toward the moon, he saw two different types of landscapes: dark lowlands and bright highlands. • Because the dark regions resembled seas on Earth, they were later named maria, which comes from the Latin word for sea. • Today we know that the moon has no atmosphere or liquid water; therefore the moon doesn’t show the weathering and erosion that continually change Earth’s surface.

    7. Earth’s Moon • As well, tectonic forces are not active on the moon, therefore volcanic eruptions no longer occur there. • However, because the moon is unprotected by an atmosphere, a different kind of erosion occurs there. • Tiny particles from space continually bombard it’s surface and gradually smooth out the landscape. • Even so, it is very unlikely that the moon has changed very much in the past 3 billion years, except for the formation of a few craters.

    8. Earth’s Moon • As well, tectonic forces are not active on the moon, therefore volcanic eruptions no longer occur there. • However, because the moon is unprotected by an atmosphere, a different kind of erosion occurs there. • Tiny particles from space continually bombard it’s surface and gradually smooth out the landscape. • Even so, it is very unlikely that the moon has changed very much in the past 3 billion years, except for the formation of a few craters.

    9. Earth’s Moon Craters: • The most obvious features of the lunar surface are craters, which are round depressions in the surface of the moon. • There are many craters on the moon. The larger craters are about 250 kilometers in diameter, about the width of Indiana. • Most craters are produced by the impact of rapidly moving debris or meteoroids. • By contrast, Earth has only a few dozen easily recognizable impact craters.

    10. Earth’s Moon Craters: • Friction from Earth’s atmosphere usually burns up small debris before it reaches the Earth. • This burning debris can be seen as shooting stars on summer nights when meteor showers occur. • Any evidence of craters that formed from meteors striking Earth in past history have been removed by surface erosion, deposition, or tectonic processes.

    11. Earth’s Moon • The formation of an impact crater can be seen at right. • Upon impact, the colliding object compresses the material it strikes. This process is similar to the splash of water when a rock is thrown into a pool; the rock quickly compresses and than rebounds back throwing debris into the air. • In large craters, a central peak forms after the impact. Most of the ejected material lands near the crater, forming a ring around it. • The heat generated by the impact is enough to melt rock. Astronauts have brought back samples of glass and rock formed when fragments and dust were welded together by the heat generated by the impact.

    12. Earth’s Moon • A meteoroid only three feet in diameter can blast out a 150 meter wide crater. • A few of the large craters, such as those named for Kepler and Copernicus, formed when the impact of meteoroids 1 kilometer or larger struck. • These two large craters are thought to be relatively young because of the bright “rays” or splash marks that radiate outward.

    13. Earth’s Moon Highlands: • Most of the lunar surface is made up of densely pitted, light colored areas known as highlands. • In fact, highlands cover most of the far side of the moon. The same side of the moon always faces the Earth. • Within these highland regions are mountain ranges. The highest lunar peaks reach elevations of almost 8 kilometers. • This is only kilometer lower than Mount Everest.

    14. Earth’s Moon Maria: • A dark, relatively smooth area on the moon’s surface is called a mare (plural: maria). • Maria, ancient beds of basaltic lava, originated when asteroids punctured the lunar surface, letting magma bleed out in enormous lava flows to cool on the surface. • These lava flows were often over 30 meters thick. The total thickness of the material that fills the maria could reach thousands of meters.

    15. Earth’s Moon Regolith: • All lunar terrains are mantled with a layer of gray debris derived from a few billion years of from meteorites. • This soil-like layer, called lunar regolith, is composed of igneous rocks, glass beads, and fine lunar dust. • In the maria that have been explored by Apollo astronauts, the lunar regolith is just over 3 meters thick.

    16. Earth’s Moon Lunar History: • The moon is our nearest planetary neighbor. Although astronauts have walked on it’s surface, much is still unknown about it’s origin. • The most widely accepted model for the origin of the moon is that when the solar system was formed, a body the size of Mars impacted the Earth. • The impact would have liquefied Earth’s surface and ejected huge portions of crust and mantle rock from the infant Earth into orbit around the planet.

    17. Earth’s Moon Lunar History: • This ejected debris circled the Earth as a ring, eventually combining into the moon. • This giant impact hypothesis is consistent with other evidence we know about the moon. • The ejected material would have been mostly iron-poor crust and mantle rocks. This would account for the lack of any sizable iron core on the moon, unlike the Earth’s inner core. • The ejected materials would also have stayed in orbit long enough to loose all water, which would account for the dryness of the moon.

    18. Earth’s Moon Lunar History: • Geologists have worked out the basic details of the moon’s later history. • One of their methods is to observe variations in crater density (the number of craters per kilometer). • The greater the crater density, the older the surface area must be. • From this type of evidence, scientists concluded that the moon evolved in three phases: the original crust (highlands), maria basins, and rayed craters.

    19. Earth’s Moon • During the early history, the moon was continuously struck as it swept up debris. • This continuous attack, combined with radioactive decay, generated enough heat to melt the moon’s outer shell and possibly the interior as well. • Remnants of this original crust occupy the densely cratered highlands. • These highlands have been estimated to be 4.5 billion years old; about the same age as the Earth itself.

    20. Earth’s Moon • One important event in the moon’s evolution was the development of the maria basins (mares). • Radioactive dating of the maria basalts puts their age between 3.2 billion years and 3.8 billion years, about a billion years younger than the initial crust. • In places, the lava flows overlap the highlands, which also explains the younger age of the maria deposits.

    21. Earth’s Moon • The last prominent feature to form were the rayed craters. • Material ejected from these young depressions is clearly seen covering the surface of the maria and many older rayless craters. • Even a relatively young crater such as the crater shown at right must be millions of years old. • If it had formed on Earth, erosional forces would have erased it long ago.

    22. Earth’s Moon • If one could have taken a photograph of the moon hundreds of millions of years ago, one would find the moon very similar today. • Without the erosional forces of atmosphere and water, little change takes place to disturb the moon’s surface except for the occasional strike of a meteorite.