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A billion years ago, our Moon was closer to Earth than it is now. As a result, it appeared to be a much larger object in the sky. During that ancient era, if human beings had been around to witness such a sight, it would have been possible to see the entire Moon--not merely the one near side face that we see now. A billion years ago, it took our Moon only twenty days to orbit our planet, and Earth's own day was considerably shorter--only eighteen hours long. Stupendous, almost unimaginably enormous tides, that were more than a kilometer in height, would ebb and flow every few hours. However, things changed, as the lunar orbit around our primordial planet grew ever wider and wider. Annually, Earth's Moon moves about 1.6 inches farther out into space. Currently, the lunar rate of rotation, as well as the time it takes to circle our planet, are the same.
The scientists also ruled out the possibility that the mysterious features actually exist on Titan's surface in the form of frozen methane rain or icy lava erupted from cryovolcanoes. Such surface features would show a different chemical signature and would be visible for much longer periods of time than the bright features observed in this study. The bright features were visible from time spans of only 11 hours to five weeks.
In addition, the newly collected data derived from the GRAIL mission helps astronomers redefine the late heavy bombardment--a proposed episode that occurred about 4 billion years ago, during which a heavy shower of projectiles pelted the bodies of the inner Solar System, including Earth and its beloved Moon, creating heavy lunar cratering in the process. The concept of the late heavy bombardment is primarily based on the ages of massive near-side craters that are either within, or adjacent to, dark, lava-flooded basins (lunar maria), that are named Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Imbrium. However, the composition of the material existing on and below the surface of the lunar near-side indicates that the temperatures beneath this area are not representative of Earth's Moon as a whole at the time of the late heavy bombardment. The difference in the temperature profiles may have caused scientists to overestimate the amount of crater-excavating projectiles that characterized the late heavy bombardment. New studies by GRAIL scientists indicate that the size distribution of impact craters on the lunar far-side is a more accurate reflection of the crater-forming history of the inner Solar System than those pock-marking the near-side.
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Jupiter is the fifth planet from our Star, the Sun, and it is more than twice as massive as all of the seven other major planets combined! Its immense mass weighs-in at an incredible 318 times that of the Earth.
"The whole process of generating porous space within planetary crusts is critically important in understanding how water gets into the subsurface. On Earth, we believe that life may have evolved somewhat in the subsurface, and this is a primary mechanism to create subsurface pockets and void spaces, and really drives a lot of the rates at which these processes happen. The Moon is a really ideal place to study this," Dr. Soderblom explained in the MIT Press Release.
First launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the two probes, playfully dubbed Ebb and Flow, operated in an almost-circular orbit near the lunar poles at an altitude of about 34 miles until their mission concluded in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes altered slightly as they flew over areas of lesser or greater gravity that resulted from visible features--such as craters and mountains--as well as by hidden masses secreted beneath our Moon's surface.