LRO sees a Moonslide

By Phil Plait | November 5, 2009 10:08 pm

The hi-res Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera captured a pretty cool image of a (what I’m guessing is an ancient) landslide on the Moon. Check this out:


[Click to embrobdingnangate.]

The slide is down the steep slope of a crater called Marius, located in Oceanus Procellarum, a vast smooth-surfaced area on the Moon (generally called "maria" — singular is "mare" — and easily visible to the naked eye). The crater itself is pretty old; the floor is covered with the same smooth surface as the mare around it, so it predates Oceanus Procellarum which we know is pretty frakkin’ old.

The slide is very interesting; what could have caused it? A moonquake, or a nearby impact? Either way, the ground shook, knocking loose rubble at the crater rim which then rolled downhill. And just to give you an idea of the scale here, the image is 510 meters across: you could walk that distance in a few minutes. The fingers of debris are only a few dozen meters across at most! The smallest objects you can see in this image are less than a meter across.

Features like this on the Moon yield a lot of information. Better, as the LROC page notes, this feature can be compared to similar ones on Mars, giving scientists insight into both worlds.

And? It’s just really cool. Landslides on the Moon! Look out below!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: landslide, LRO, Moon

Comments (21)

Links to this Post

  1. LRO ziet een aard- eh… maanverschuiving | Astroblogs | November 6, 2009
  1. Cool! I love how great the resolution is from LRO. Do we have any idea how old the landslide is?

  2. AKMask

    Carl Sagan ft Hawking – Drops a beat

    Hey phil, I saw this on facebook today, and its an amazing song, just wanted to pass it on to someone else who also loves Sagan.

    its from the Symphony of Science Project at

  3. Emery Emery

    You mean, Look out above!

  4. PlasticRectangle

    That seriously looks like water. I know that of course it’s impossible, but the resemblance to the gullies and similar things on Mars is just uncanny. Wow.

  5. «bønez_brigade»

    That kinda “loosely” resembles the strip mining effects from the recent ‘Moon’ flick.

  6. JohnW

    In keeping with your “aresain” comment about Mars, shouldn’t this be a “luneslide” or something?

  7. Jack Mitcham

    Maybe it was caused by a Judoon platoon on the moon.

  8. Sili

    Brobdingnagify, surely? There’re only two ns, not three.

  9. Something crashes nearby. The ground shakes. Rocks and dirt come rolling down the hill, straight at you.

    All in total silence.

    In space, no one can hear you scream.

  10. Phil, There is also a new pic of the Apollo XVII landing site via LRO. It’s even better than the others released earlier!

  11. Bryan Feir

    Ken B@9:

    Well, I wouldn’t say total silence. The rocky surface that you’d be standing on would be quite capable of carrying the vibrations of sound into the suit you’d presumably be wearing, albeit rather attenuated.

    I agree it sounds like a wonderful horror movie shot, though: complete silence as you see a suited figure with his arms in front of him as if warding something off, and the rapidly approaching wall of debris only seen reflected in the suit’s faceplate…

  12. Speaking of the Apollo XVII site:

    Are those more rocks tumbling down slopes that I see? About 1/3rd of the way down from the top, where the bright image turns to dark, I see some near-vertical lines, ending in what look like boulders towards the bottom (in the image). For example:

    And, where in the full image is the Apollo XVII landing site?

  13. Speaking of the Apollo XVII site:

    Are those more rocks tumbling down slopes that I see? About 1/3rd of the way down from the top, where the bright image turns to dark, I see some near-vertical lines, ending in what look like boulders towards the bottom (in the image). For example:

    And, where in the full images is the Apollo XVII landing site?

  14. Hmm… I’m trying to post another comment, but it won’t appear. No “awaiting moderation” notice, either. ???

    [edit] Okay, now they’ve appeared with “awaiting moderation”. Strange for the delay. Hopefully, BA can just not approve one of them, since I posted it twice.

  15. Tom

    The really cool thing about this landslide is that since there’s no atmosphere or water to wear it away, and that very little has happened on the moon in millions of years, the question is which is older: this landslide, or the dinosaurs?

  16. Old Geezer

    Let me quibble for the sake of discussion. I can’t see all of the detail, because the image doesn’t show the origin of this slide, but I don’t think this is really a landslide as much as it is the evidence of a lot of surface rock falling down a slope. Classically, a landslide would involve a large amount of dirt moving as a single mass. Think of any hillside in Los Angeles after a fire and subsequent rain. There is the typical egg-shaped zone of newly exposed dirt above and a big pile of dirt below. What I see here is the pattern of rocks or boulders rolling down the surface of the slope without the underlying mass being disturbed. If you’ve seen films of a snow avalanche, you’ve seen this first movement of snow crumbs along the surface followed by the sudden drop of a mass of snow in the actual avalanche. The moon crumbs fell, but the land beneath did not slide.

    Am I missing something or just being too picky? Any geologists out there?

  17. Tom K.

    Looks like some pretty cool ski slopes. Wonder what the lift tickets cost. All that freshreally old powder.

  18. Crudely Wrott

    Stuff moves. Places and paces change but stuff still moves.

  19. Crudely Wrott

    Oohh! Tom K! Skiing on the Moon.

    There was a wonderful short story from the mid 50s (I think , author uncertain) that featured just such a thing. If memory serves, one attaches perforated soles to ones moon boots which exhaust jets of compressed gas carried in back packs. Upon arrival at the summit one would only need to face downhill, activate a valve and take a couple of forward steps. The rest would be gravy (ty).

  20. Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The entire glance of your website is wonderful, let alone the content!


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