Surprising Moon Topography: Everest-Sized Mountains On the Moon’s South Pole

The mountains (Massif) are taller than Mt. Everest.

NASA is conducting a detailed topographic study of the surface of the moon in preparation for the next manned mission to the lunar surface. A part of their study has revealed the existence of massive, Mt. Everest-sized mountains on the South Pole of the Moon, a region where the Artemis mission of 2024 is expected to touch down.

Earth’s faithful companion hides many secrets. Although we have mapped the surface of the moon in great detail, landed mankind on its surface, and sent numerous satellites and robotic explorers to its surface, the Moon has still a couple of secrets up its sleeve.

The NASA Virtual Solar System Exploration Research Institute (SSERVI) is creating a detailed Atlas of the Lunar South Pole. As part of that atlas, NASA is mapping the topography of the region, including the lunar mountains which have proven to be extremely large in certain areas.

The mountains on the moon are called massifs, and the South Pole of Earth’s satellite is home to several of them. Exactly how these massive mountains formed remains a mystery we hope to solve soon, but scientists think their formation is connected to the massive south-pole impact basing called the South PoleAitken basin (SPA Basin).

According to scientists, the SPA Basin is one heck of a place to explore. 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, and it happens to be the largest, oldest, and deepest basin discovered on the Moon.

SERVI has found that decorating the landscape of the SPA Basin is a massive called the Malapert Massif. Together with Leibnitz β (Beta), it is one of the tallest lunar massifs discovered by astronomers.

The Malapert Massif is adjacent to the Haworth Crater, and the change in elevation between the two is greater than 8 kilometers. That is very close to the height of Mount Everest above sea level.

An illustration showing the height and topography of the Malapert Massif compared to Mt. Everest. Image Credit: LPI/CLSE.
An illustration showing the height and topography of the Malapert Massif compared to Mt. Everest. Image Credit: LPI/CLSE.

Leibniz Beta has the highest elevation in the region. It is next to the so-called Shoemaker Crater, and the elevation change from the crater to the peak is 10 kilometers, which turns out to be higher than Mount Everest on Earth.

Future manned missions to the moon are expected to take human astronauts to the region, an area rich in minerals which could help human colonies to maintain themselves allowing humans to remain on the surface of the moon for extended periods.

An illustration showing the height and topography of the Leibnitz Beta Massif compared to Mt. Everest. Image Credit: LPI/CLSE.
An illustration showing the height and topography of the Leibnitz Beta Massif compared to Mt. Everest. Image Credit: LPI/CLSE.

The massive lunar massifs were photographed on numerous occasions during the Apollo missions. Apollo 8 took some of the first images of the region. The Mission was the first to orbit the moon, although it never set foot on the surface of the moon. Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the moon.

Missions to the Malapert massif were proposed in the past, and one of them was recommended by David Kring, who happens to be the leading scientist of the LPI (Lunar and Planetary Institute). The mission proposed by Kring was part of the Constellation program, a canceled manned mission to the moon proposed in the mid-2000s.

When NASA’s Artemis astronaut set foot on the lunar South Pole in the near future, they will make use of the Lunar South Pole Atlas to guide them in exploring the area.

“To assist NASA and the lunar community, LPI/USRA have compiled an online atlas that consists of a series of maps, images, and illustrations of the south polar region,” SSERVI reveals on their website.

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