A new map of flat, light-colored streaks and splotches on the moon links the features to a few large impacts that spread debris all over the surface. The finding suggests that some of the moon’s history might need rethinking.
Planetary scientist Heather Meyer, now at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, used data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to make the map, the most detailed global look at these light plains yet. Previous maps had been patched together from different sets of observations, which made it hard to be sure that features that looked like plains actually were.
Astronomers originally assumed that the light plains were ancient lava flows from volcanoes. But rocks brought back from one of these plains by Apollo 16 astronauts in 1972 did not have volcanic compositions. That finding led some scientists to suspect the plains, which cover about 9.5 percent of the lunar surface, came from giant impacts.