<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast ideas about how lunar craters form
  • Explain the process of impact crater formation
  • Discuss the use of crater counts to determine relative ages of lunar landforms

The Moon provides an important benchmark for understanding the history of our planetary system. Most solid worlds show the effects of impacts, often extending back to the era when a great deal of debris from our system’s formation process was still present. On Earth, this long history has been erased by our active geology. On the Moon, in contrast, most of the impact history is preserved. If we can understand what has happened on the Moon, we may be able to apply this knowledge to other worlds. The Moon is especially interesting because it is not just any moon, but our Moon—a nearby world that has shared the history of Earth for more than 4 billion years and preserved a record that, for Earth, has been destroyed by our active geology.

Volcanic versus impact origin of craters

Until the middle of the twentieth century, scientists did not generally recognize that lunar crater s were the result of impacts. Since impact craters are extremely rare on Earth, geologists did not expect them to be the major feature of lunar geology. They reasoned (perhaps unconsciously) that since the craters we have on Earth are volcanic, the lunar craters must have a similar origin.

One of the first geologists to propose that lunar craters were the result of impacts was Grove K. Gilbert , a scientist with the US Geological Survey in the 1890s. He pointed out that the large lunar craters—mountain-rimmed, circular features with floors generally below the level of the surrounding plains—are larger and have different shapes from known volcanic craters on Earth. Terrestrial volcanic craters are smaller and deeper and almost always occur at the tops of volcanic mountains ( [link] ). The only alternative to explain the Moon’s craters was an impact origin. His careful reasoning, although not accepted at the time, laid the foundations for the modern science of lunar geology.

Volcanic and impact craters.

Profiles of Volcanic and Impact Craters Illustrated. At left is a terrestrial volcano. It is tall, steeply sloped with a shallow crater at the top. At right is a Lunar impact crater. Not as tall as a terrestrial volcano, nor as steeply sloped. The crater has a very wide, flat floor and a central peak.
Profiles of a typical terrestrial volcanic crater and a typical lunar impact crater are quite different.

Gilbert concluded that the lunar craters were produced by impacts, but he didn’t understand why all of them were circular and not oval. The reason lies in the escape velocity, the minimum speed that a body must reach to permanently break away from the gravity of another body; it is also the minimum speed that a projectile approaching Earth or the Moon will hit with. Attracted by the gravity of the larger body, the incoming chunk strikes with at least escape velocity, which is 11 kilometers per second for Earth and 2.4 kilometers per second (5400 miles per hour) for the Moon. To this escape velocity is added whatever speed the projectile already had with respect to Earth or Moon, typically 10 kilometers per second or more.

At these speeds, the energy of impact produces a violent explosion that excavates a large volume of material in a symmetrical way. Photographs of bomb and shell craters on Earth confirm that explosion craters are always essentially circular. Only following World War I did scientists recognize the similarity between impact craters and explosion craters, but, sadly, Gilbert did not live to see his impact hypothesis widely accepted.

Questions & Answers

what is comets , astroids ,
Sumit Reply
hi, I am yamini, I am in class 8 but very much interested in astronomy and go to NASA, what are the subjects in which I can master and lead to NASA.
yamini Reply
Hello Yamini, Im Ken and I'm avery intrested in joining the NASA too. Is nice to meet you.
Ken
very*
Ken
nice to meet u ken
yamini
What I know about the subjects is that you have to be a master on science and math, also if you know about aviation is better too
Ken
I read that the Russian language is very important, is not a requirement but it's like an extra point!
Ken
yeah like physics, chemistry and maths, they are my most favorite.
yamini
than you can go free of cost
Arush
Yes, That's right!
Ken
how
yamini
Oh! Free of cost?
Ken
hello yamini nice to meet you
Burak
what is time
Abdul Reply
Time is relative
mrunal
pls elaborate
sakshi
the clear defination.I know that.
Abdul
In planet mars there the life exits or not and is there water there
Eshwarsa Reply
see till now nothing can be found as u know that the curiosity rover has struck in mars
Maya
It has been proven that there are water molecules on Mars but not enough that most lifeforms could thrive upon.
Ariana
There are huge amounts of water in the ice caps and under the surface. The surface and chemistry indicate that Mars had cosiderable amounts of water on its surface in the past.
Julius
what is your opinion about the theory of Vedas about modern physics..
Manish Reply
i think in some ways vedas are also correct but not everytime
Maya
I agree
sakshi
hmm even I agree
Samuel
Is there any patened theory about time relativitg in growth and development?
donot Reply
some astronomer's says that there is no alien exist but why search for extra terrestrial intelligence center is established
Eshwarsa Reply
No One Knows That For Absolute Fact, The Universe Is Too Huge To Have Any Type Of Idea About What Exist In The Far Reaches Of Our Universe.....
Adam
Check Out The Drake Equation.....
Adam
their should be aliens as like ours there would be another planet
Maya
which could have existed life on it
Maya
adam i want to ask a question
Maya
can kepler 1st law be applied on all the planets of the universe
Maya
hello, anyone home?
Denise
sjskskfhjkkktewqqw and try?
Lanika Reply
what is this ?
Samuel
hi I am Samuel from India mumbai
Samuel
nice to meet you
Samuel
thats my question, what is this?
penzias and wilson's a discovery of the cosmic microwave background is a nice example of scientific serendipity-something that is found by chance but turns out to have a positive outcome
Jacqueline Reply
how should I make my carrier in astronomy
Ayush Reply
I think that Newton's third law is not appropriate if any also thinks like this please reply me
Ayush
Can you explain your reasoning
Huh
why u think so
joseph
yes Ayush u are right
Yoganshu
I think when we apply force to a object it start moving but , a/c to Newton's third law every action has equal and opposite reaction,so object should also exert equal force on us and it should not move due to balanced force
Ayush
if I am not right then reply me
Ayush
no
Zack
because of friction that opposes that force and help us to move ahead
Manish
but this is not satisfied as third law say another thing
Ayush
you are telling why object moves
Ayush
you have to think a/c to third law
Ayush
its because of its mass
Maya
because it is applying equal and opposite force but also our mass is also less in comparison to the object
Maya
which is why we cant move the object but it can make move us
Maya
manish is too correct in his place because we need to apply force which would overcome the frictional force
Maya
My dear friends, can u plz tell me that among u guys who are in the field of cosmology
Madhav Reply
😢I am not there in cosmology
Samuel
Just A Science Fan.....
Adam
Adam even I am 😥😅😅😂😂
Samuel
I am also not in cosmology but I am just a fan or we can say science and part of NASA is my dream
Yoganshu
yoganshu Arya same here
Samuel
you are from which country
Yoganshu
hi yoganshu
Samuel
India
Samuel
which state
Samuel
I am also from India
Yoganshu
from delhi
Yoganshu
and u...?
Yoganshu
I am from Maharashtra
Samuel
from which state?
Yoganshu
You are a ASTRONOMER ...
Yoganshu
or a scientist..
Yoganshu
or just a member
Yoganshu
What is time...? not about Newton= time is constant..... that all scientists openions n point of view I m knowing. . what can be the Perfect Definition of Time
Madhav Reply
time is what clock reads
Ayush
Who is the best astronomer of India at present time
Gian Reply
Jayant Narlikar, Proponent Of Steady State Cosmology.....
Adam
What is the real colour of sun rays
Gian Reply
white.. so white it becomes violet.. so violet it become ultraviolet
Tom
white and red and yellow
Bianca
Vibgyor
Samuel
the real colour of sunlight is White
Madhav
the Sun's has a variety of waves all throughout the elextromagnetic spectrum.
Jacie
we only see it as a few bc of how some of them get redshifted (? can that term be applied for something so local?) by some particles in our upper atmosphere
Jacie
Vibgyor will be when, the white light will pass through the clouds ( prism ) then Refraction phenomenon leads us to 7 colours splitting from a single colour "White " light
Madhav
so the sun rays r of White colour
Madhav
Taurus in astronomy and horoscope?
Yasser Reply

Get the best Astronomy course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Astronomy' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask