Astronomers believe a Jersey-sized asteroid created the Man in the Moon

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Jul 26, 2016, 1:47 PM EDT (Updated)

How many times have we stared up at the pale full moon and marveled at the fictitious face embedded in its surface?  Though it's been well known for decades that a humongous heavenly body bashed into the moon's crust to create what's formally known as Mare Imbrium (Latin for "Sea of Showers"), no one knew exactly how huge that monster space rock really was until now.  According to an intriguing new study published in the British journal Nature, the right eye of the "Man in the Moon" crater was created by an asteroid the size of the Garden State.  That startling report, published last Wednesday, concludes that a gigantic, 150-mile-wide asteroid as big as New Jersey slammed into the moon some 3.8 billion years ago. These staggering figures are 10 times greater than what scientists previously estimated.


“We show that Imbrium was likely formed by an absolutely enormous object, large enough to be classified as a 'protoplanet',” said Pete Schultz, professor of planetary sciences at Brown University and head author of the report. "More than half of the asteroid was destroyed after hitting the moon.  A portion, however, would have escaped lunar gravity and sent into orbit around the sun, becoming a new group of Earth-moon-crossing objects.  Those asteroid bits would have re-collided with both the Earth and the moon."

Schultz used a special 14-foot cannon borrowed from NASA that fires tiny projectiles at up to 16,000 mph to conduct his experiments, which re-created the cataclysmic events on the lunar surface billions of years ago.

"The moon still holds clues that can affect our interpretation of the entire solar system," Shultz explained. "Its scarred face can tell us quite a lot about what was happening in our neighborhood 3.8 billion years ago.”


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