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South Pole–Aitken basin

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South Pole–Aitken basin

Topographic map of the South Pole–Aitken basin based

on Kaguya data. Red represents high elevation, purple represents low

elevation. The purple and grey elliptical rings trace the inner and outer

walls of the basin. (The black ring is an old artifact of the image.)

53°S 169°WCoordinates: 53°S 169°W


Diameter About 2,500 km (1,600 mi)

Depth About 13 km (8.1 mi)

Eponym Lunar south pole

Aitken (crater)

The South Pole–Aitken basin is an immense impact crater on the far side of the Moon. At roughly
2,500 km (1,600 mi) in diameter and 13 km (8.1 mi) deep, it is one of the largest known impact
craters in the Solar System. It is the largest, oldest, and deepest basin recognized on the Moon.[1] It
was named for two features on opposite sides of the basin: the crater Aitken on the northern end
and the lunar south pole at the other end. The outer rim of this basin can be seen from Earth as a
huge chain of mountains located on the Moon's southern limb, sometimes informally called "Leibnitz
On 3 January 2019, the Chang'e 4, a Chinese spacecraft, landed in the basin,[2] specifically within a
crater called Von Kármán.[3] In May 2019, scientists announced that a large mass of material had
been identified deep within the crater.[4][5]

 1Discovery
 2Physical characteristics
 3Origin
 4See also
 5References
 6External links


Apollo 8 photograph showing the mountains along the northern rim of the basin

The existence of a giant far side basin was suspected as early as 1962 based on early probe images
(namely Luna 3 and Zond 3), but it was not until the acquisition of global photography by the Lunar
Orbiter program in the mid-1960s that geologists recognized its true size. Laser altimeter data
obtained during the Apollo 15 and 16 missions showed that the northern portion of this basin was
very deep,[6] but since these data were only available along the near-equatorial ground tracks of the
orbiting command and service modules, the topography of the rest of the basin remained unknown.
The geologic map showing the northern half of this basin and with its edge depicted was published
in 1978 by the United States Geological Survey.[7] Little was known about the basin until the 1990s,
when the spacecraft Galileo and Clementine visited the Moon. Multispectral images obtained from
these missions showed that this basin contains more FeO and TiO2 than typical lunar highlands,[citation
and hence has a darker appearance. The topography of the basin was mapped in its entirety for
the first time using altimeter data and the analysis of stereo image pairs taken during the Clementine
mission. Most recently, the composition of this basin has been further constrained by the analysis of
data obtained from a gamma-ray spectrometer that was on board the Lunar Prospector mission.

Physical characteristics[edit]
Far side of the Moon. The South Pole–Aitken basin is the darker area at the bottom of this image.

The South Pole–Aitken basin is the largest, deepest and oldest basin recognized on the Moon.[1] The
lowest elevations of the Moon (about −6000 m) are located within the South Pole–Aitken basin, and
the highest peaks (about +8000 m) are found on this basin's north-eastern rim, which are sometimes
called the Leibnitz Mountains.[8] Because of this basin's great size, the crust at this locale is expected
to be thinner than typical as a result of the large amount of material that was excavated due to an
impact. Crustal thickness maps constructed using the Moon's topography and gravity field imply a
thickness of about 30 km beneath the floor of this basin, in comparison to 60–80 km around it and
the global average of about 50 km.[9]
The composition of the basin, as estimated from the Galileo, Clementine, and Lunar
Prospector missions, appears to be different from typical highland regions. Most importantly, none of
the samples obtained from the American Apollo and Russian Luna missions, nor the handful of
identified lunar meteorites, have comparable compositions. The orbital data indicate that the floor of
the basin has slightly elevated abundances of iron, titanium, and thorium. In terms of mineralogy, the
basin floor is much richer in clinopyroxene and orthopyroxene than the surrounding highlands, which
are largely anorthositic.[10] Several possibilities exist for this distinctive chemical signature: one is that
it might simply represent lower crustal materials that are somewhat richer in iron, titanium and
thorium than the upper crust; another is that the composition reflects the widespread distribution of
ponds of iron-rich basalts, similar to those that make up the lunar maria; alternatively, the rocks in
the basin could contain a component from the lunar mantle if the basin excavated all the way
through the crust; and, finally, it is possible that a large portion of the lunar surface surrounding the
basin was melted during the impact event, and differentiation of this impact melt sheet could have
given rise to additional geochemical anomalies. Complicating the matter is the possibility that several
processes have contributed to the basin's anomalous geochemical signature. Ultimately, the origin of
the anomalous composition of the basin is not known with certainty and will likely require a sample
return mission to determine.

A possible configuration of South Pole–Aitken basin sample return spacecraft. On the image, it is on the near
side of the Moon.

Simulations of near vertical impacts show that the bolide ought to have excavated vast amounts of
mantle materials from depths as great as 200 km below the surface. However, observations thus far
do not favor a mantle composition for this basin and crustal thickness maps seem to indicate the
presence of about 10 kilometers of crustal materials beneath this basin's floor. This has suggested to
some that the basin was not formed by a typical high-velocity impact, but may instead have been
formed by a low-velocity projectile around 200 km in diameter that hit at a low angle (about 30
degrees or less), and hence did not dig very deeply into the Moon. Putative evidence for this comes
from the high elevations north-east of the rim of the South Pole–Aitken basin that might represent
ejecta from such an oblique impact. The impact theory would also account for magnetic anomalies
on the Moon.[11]