Well That’s Weird…

The South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest crater in the Solar System, is a gigantic impact structure on the far side of the Moon. Data from NASA’s lunar spacecraft points to the existence of a large excess of mass of about 2.18*1018 kg (about five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii) in the lunar mantle underneath the basin. According to new research, this mass anomaly may contain metal from a massive asteroid that crashed into the Moon and formed the crater.

The South Pole-Aitken basin is oval-shaped, as 1,600 miles (2,500 km) wide and 8.1 miles (13 km) deep. Despite its size, it cannot be seen from Earth because, you know, it is on the far side of the Moon.

Researchers measured and analyzed small changes in the strength of gravity around the Moon, using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. When they combined that with lunar topography data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, they discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin.

The dense mass, whatever it is, wherever it came from, is weighing the basin floor downward by more than half a mile.

Computer simulations of large asteroid impacts suggest that, under the right conditions, an iron-nickel core of an asteroid may be dispersed into the lunar upper mantle during an impact.

The findings appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The Dinosaurs Were Doing Fine

You know, until that whole asteroid thing.

Image result for dinosaurs asteroid

It’s probably fine…

Most paleontologists agree that the Chicxulub asteroid impact, possibly coupled with intense volcanic activity, wiped out non-avian dinosaurs (all dinosaurs except birds) at the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago.

However, there is debate about whether dinosaurs were flourishing or whether they had already been in decline due to climate change. A new study that modeled the changing environment and dinosaur species distribution in North America suggests that dinosaurs were likely not in decline before the Chicxulub strike.

According to the study, dinosaurs as a whole were adaptable animals, capable of coping with the environmental changes and climatic fluctuations that happened during the last few million years of the Late Cretaceous. It suggests previous analyses have underestimated the number of species at the end of the Cretaceous period.

During the Cretaceous, North America was split in two by a large inland sea. In the western half there was a steady supply of sediment from the newly forming Rocky Mountains, which created good conditions for fossilizing dinosaurs once they died. The eastern half of the continent was characterized by conditions far less suitable for fossilization.

This means that far more dinosaur fossils are found in the western half of North America, and this fossil record is often used to suggest dinosaurs were in decline during the few million years before the asteroid strike.

However, instead of using the fossil record exclusively, the researchers employed ‘ecological niche modeling.’ This approach models which environmental conditions, such as temperature and rainfall, each species would need to survive. The scientists then mapped where these conditions would occur across the continent over time.

This allowed them to create a picture of where groups of dinosaur species could survive as conditions changed, rather than just where their fossils had been found. The team found habitats that could support dinosaur groups were actually more widespread at the end of the Cretaceous period, but that these were in areas less likely to preserve fossils.

The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.