Some Craters are the Pits

Lunar Pit Crater
A look into a lunar pit crater

Boulders litter the floor of a 300-foot-deep lunar pit crater in this image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, released on September 14, 2010. (Cropped and rotated….click for original.) The pit is located in the Mare Tranquilatis area of the moon and was most likely created by the collapse of a subsurface lava tube. Other similar pits have been discovered in different mare regions as well, all new discoveries by the LRO imaging team at Arizona State university with the help of participants from the MoonZoo project. So far nearly 750 square miles of the moon’s surface have been investigated and classified by MoonZoo members…that’s 32,300 LRO images, or an area the size of  33 Manhattans!

And speaking of the moon, this Saturday is the first International Observe the Moon Night! With over 278 events planned by astronomy groups in over 40 countries you can participate with an organized group or just by merely going outside and (weather permitting!) looking moonward. A waxing gibbous moon will offer very nice views of the lunar surface relief through a telescope or set of binoculars, and you can even follow the event on Twitter at @observethemoon. (There’s also a main site but I haven’t been able to get it to work. I hope they’ll fix that soon.)

Whether you participate in an event in your area, pore over some LROC images on MoonZoo or just go outside and bask in the moon’s cool white glow for a bit, it’s a good time to reflect for a moment on our partner in our travels through space, an ever-present reminder about the presence of worlds beyond our own and a little time capsule that holds clues to the history of our planet – and the entire solar system as well. It’s even been suggested that life would have evolved much differently on Earth had it not been for the moon, and whether or not this is true is pure conjecture but one thing is for certain…the night sky would be quite a bit darker and lonelier without it. Pits and all.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.