One of the newest craters on the Moon

By Phil Plait | March 29, 2010 7:30 am

On April 14th, 1970, a new crater was carved into the surface of the Moon:

LRO_apolloimpact

How do we know it’s new? Because we made it.

That’s the impact scar of the third stage of the Saturn V rocket (technically designated S-IVB) that carried Apollo 13 to — but sadly, not on — the Moon. Earlier missions had placed seismic instruments on the lunar surface to measure if the Moon had any activity. They found it did, and in fact several moonquakes were big enough that had you been standing there, you would have felt them quite strongly (and probably been knocked on your spacesuit’s backside).

apollo7_sivbThe S-IVB upper stage accelerated the astronauts to the Moon from Earth orbit. Once that was done, they had one final mission: in Apollos 13 – 17 the stages were aimed at the Moon itself, and impacted a few days later. The impacts were detected by the seismometers and could be used to determine how seismic waves travel through the lunar surface, a trick that’s been used on Earth for a long time. This information can be used to figure out what the lunar subsurface structure is like.

The crater image above is from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and shows the Apollo 13 booster impact. The crater itself is a few dozen meters across, and the material ejected forms a blanket around it for many meters more. The bright material indicates this is a fresh crater; note how gray the more distant undisturbed material around the crater is.

The impact site looks obvious in that picture, doesn’t it? But try finding it in the original full-resolution image returned from LRO and see if you can locate it, then! I found it relatively quickly starting at the top, and was shocked at how far I could trace the rays — the linear ejected debris features around the crater — from the impact site. One of them is clearly about a kilometer long… that’s over half a mile! Those rays are from plumes of material ejected from the impact site, a common feature. They also indicate the crater’s youth: over time, cosmic rays, the solar wind, and even thermal stress from the Moon’s day/night cycle slowly erase the rays. Any crater with such extensive rays has to be young.

Some of the other S-IVB impact sites have been identified; the LRO blog has an image of the Apollo 14 S-IVB crater, for example. Knowing where these impact sites are helps scientists understand the Moon better, since it a more precise location means the data from the old Apollo missions can be interpreted more clearly. I wonder if future colonists may visit those sites the way we do Plymouth Rock, or Jamestown, or other early exploration and colony sites on Earth?

Credit: NASA, NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Apollo, crater, LRO, S-IVB, Saturn V

Comments (46)

  1. Michelle R

    Found it~<3

    That was an easy one. Man ,this is great.

  2. MiddleO'Nowhere

    I think it would be amazing to be able to visit the original landing sites. I just hope it occurs soon enough that their significance and true history isn’t lost on the visitors. (“We’re whalers on the moon….” I always feel kind of sorry for Fry in that episode.)

  3. What? Not some evil human plot to knock the Moon out of orbit and crash into the Earth? Where’s the pandemonium?! Argh!

    Oh, wait, had a major reality lapse there. Phew!

    I’ll take the challenge to find that pock mark. As always, love these LRO images. Good stuff, mmm.

  4. Gary Ansorge

    Lunar quakes? I thought those impacts made the moon “ring like a bell”, indicating the moon was solid clear thru to the core.

    How did I miss references to an active interior?

    Gary 7

  5. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Great image & write up thanks BA. :-)

    And this is very timely – it was 40 years ago this year :

    ***

    Apollo 13 (Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert & Fred Haise) was widely hailed as NASA’s “finest hour” & possibly also the greatest space adventure / rescue story ever in April (11th to 17th) 1970. It would’ve landed in Frau Mauro but an explosion in the Oxygen tanks of the service module turned the flight into a struggle to get back alive using the LEM as a lifeboat. The Apollo 13 endured cold, low power levels, the Carbon Dioxide crisis – and its improvised filter fix before re-entering and splashing down safely in the Pacific.

    “Although the damage forced the decision to abort the mission, it is fortunate it happened on the way to the moon when the LM was still available with its full complement of consumables. Had the tank rupture occurred after the lunar landing or during the return to earth after the LM had been jettisoned, the crew would not have survived. In that sense, the crew’s lives may have been saved by the same malfunction that caused the danger. At around 46h 40m into the mission, the oxygen tank 2 quantity gauge went “off-scale high” (reading over 100%) and stayed there, possibly due to the damaged internal insulation. To assist in determining the cause, the crew was asked to perform cryo-tank stirs more often than originally planned. In the original mission plan, the stir that ruptured the tank would not have been done until after the lunar landing.”

    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_13

    - Commander James A. (“Jim”) Lovell was on his final flight after a distinguished career incl. Apollo 8 and two previous Gemini missions (7 & 12) and was also the back-up commander for Apollo 11.

    - Fred Haise was rather unlucky in being scheduled to fly a number of missions that were cancelled incl. Apollo 19 & a rescue flight to Skylab that never flew as the station fell out of the sky and onto Western Australia before it could be launched. He also piloted the test flights of the Enterprise orbiter in 1977. But Apollo 13 was his only trip to space.

    - (John) “Jack” Swigert was brought in late to replace Ken Mattingly with the measles scare – he never flew any other missions but entered politics and got elected to Congress but died before he could take office. Mattingly flew as Command Module pilot on Apollo 16 with John Young and Charles Duke as well as on two later shuttle (STS-4 1982 & STS-51C 1985) missions.

    Thus none of the Apollo 13 trio (or quartet!) ever landed on the Moon which I find kinda sad.

  6. I wonder if future colonists may visit those sites the way we do Plymouth Rock, or Jamestown

    Yes, and there will be poorly-paid reenactors of traditional occupations of the time, like whalers.

  7. Hi Phil and all -

    Talking of LROC – I’ve been perusing LROC archives and managed to create some 3D images from a few overlapping files – http://www.flickr.com/photos/29774727@N04/

    Might be of interest maybe??

    Nathanial Burton-Bradford

  8. Pi-needles

    @ 6. John Armstrong Says:

    “I wonder if future colonists may visit those sites the way we do Plymouth Rock, or Jamestown.”Yes, and there will be poorly-paid reenactors of traditional occupations of the time, like whalers.

    Sing along everybody! :

    We’re whalers on the Moon!
    We carry our harpoons,
    But there ain’t no whales
    So we sing tall tales
    And act like drunk buffoons! ;-)
    - Futurama, the Lunar episode.

    If they’re going to re-enact impacting that empty Saturn V third stage then I hope they’re on target accurately enough!

    Otherwise, that could go wrong in an awfully bad way:

    “Well the good news is it hit the Moon near the right area, the bad news is it wasn’t *quite* on target. In fact, you know how there was that VIP spectator dome set up especially to witness the impact from close up? Well the good new is you don’t have to dismantle that now… ! ;-)

  9. DaveS

    Science fiction domed moon colonies are nice, but in reality, I don’t think there will ever be *colonization* of the moon. Outposts, yes. Perhaps permanent habitation. But in the same way we never really colonized Antarctica, it’s just too darn hostile to human life for anything but rather expensive outposts and adventurers.

    And the way thinks are going, they’ll be speaking Mandarin.

  10. Jya Jya Binks Killer

    @3. Lewis Says:

    What? Not some evil human plot to knock the Moon out of orbit and crash into the Earth? Where’s the pandemonium?!

    Wrong planet’s moon – anybody could tell you that Pandemonium can be found by going through the gateway to hell found on Phobos or Deimos the moons of Mars.

    What didn’t you ever play Doom?

    So which Apollo mission wins the “left biggest crater behind” award? ;-)

  11. Sir Eccles

    I can see the scene from the up coming National Lampoons Lunar Vacation, a cryogenically frozen Clark Griswold drives the family lunar truckster up to the rim…

  12. Sman

    @ Gary wrote:

    Lunar quakes? I thought those impacts made the moon “ring like a bell”, indicating the moon was solid clear thru to the core.

    I am not really up on it, but I think that since the instrument packages were deployed in such a narrow areal extent, the data is poor. We need seismometers placed at various areas around the lunar surface, not just the near side.

    Something obviously, though limited, is happening… google “Lunar Transient Phenomenom” and “Aristarchus”.

  13. B Sandberg

    So, suggestions for a name?

    I suggest “Haise”, unless it’s already been used.

  14. “How do we know it’s new? Because we made it.”

    @#$%%^litterbugs!

  15. ooooppps – yes sorry for the confusion – simply click on my name :)

  16. Brian

    Wow! It’s hard NOT to find a fresh crater in that image! The moon is always being pelted by rocks–how can you tell that crater was made by a NON-rock?

  17. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ ^ Nathanial Burton-Bradfield :

    No worries – thanks.

    Seeing Giordano Bruno’s crater as an anaglyph there reminds me .. its the 510th anniversary of Bruno being burnt at the stake back in Feb. 1600 C.E. This was (at least partly) because of Bruno’s “heretical” belief in other stars being other suns with life on other planets around them & for his accepting the sun-centred Copernican theory over the Church’s earth-centred one.

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

  18. Any crater with such extensive rays has to be young.

    In fact, this and Tycho, the Moon’s other prominent ray crater, both formed about the time T Rex got going.

  19. Matt T

    And did we ask the Moon’s permission, huh? Did we??? Arrogant “scientists” who think they can dump their crap wherever they want!!!zeropointninerecurring!!
    [/obligatory_moonbat]

    @MiddleO’Nowhere (#2): [voice = scruffy]Second![/voice]

  20. will

    Wait, what? that means that we actually _went_ to the moon- what the…

    I’m sure some crazy conspiracy person will come up with some other explanation but.. still..

  21. Donnie B.

    Regarding future visits to Apollo sites: it brings to mind a key plot point in the (not-so-great) movie Mission To Mars. A stranded astronaut is saved by using resources from an old robotic lander. Maybe one day a lunar explorer will be saved by wrapping himself in mylar film stripped off an Apollo descent stage, or something of the sort.

  22. Chuck WoW

    If I could get the U.S. Flag that was planted on the surface of the moon how much do you think it would go for on Ebay ?

  23. Ross

    I can’t resist throwing in my own interpretation of how a visit to an historic Apollo landing site could go terribly wrong:
    http://www.airaffair.com/Chronicles/apollo11-40th.html
    (see photo at the bottom of the page)

  24. Given that with global warming, our planet is going to spend the next few centuries trying to stave off famine and disease and the wars caused by it, the earliest realistic date we have a chance to put humans back on the moon is around 1969-1972.

  25. Jason

    Well, is the white stuff water ice? Because that’s what it is in the Mars pictures…

  26. It spells “CHA”…..what on Earth could that mean? ;)

  27. MadScientist

    I’d just like to point out that on earth we don’t generally use the carcass of a rocket to generate seismic signals. Sometimes we use explosives, if I’m not too senile the folks at sea use an “air gun” (you don’t want those guys around when you’re trying to catch fish), and the mining exploration folks generally use a super-sized “vibrator” – not the petty battery operated toy you find in an adult shop but a real man’s (or woman’s) toy.

    @Plutonium: There were many astronauts trained for lunar missions who never got to fly to the moon – why be sad for the Apollo 13 crew and not for the others who just stood on the side line? Besides, the Apollo 13 crew got to ride the most powerful rocket ever built; there were great risks and they lived to tell the story of a mission gone wrong.

  28. Pi-needles

    24. J. Major Says:

    It spells “CHA”…..what on Earth could that mean?

    Its one letter off being CHAI or tea! ;-)

    The Lunarians are making us a polite offer British style to drop round for a cuppa! I think we should take them up on it. :-D

  29. Dave Child

    “Thus none of the Apollo 13 trio (or quartet!) ever landed on the Moon which I find kinda sad.”

    I wish I had the chance to do 1/10th of the stuff they got to do!! I would have been happy to be part of ANY of the manned flights, Mercury through the Shuttle flights. In the days after the Challenger, I told people that if they had rolled out another Shuttle the next day, I would have been in line to ride it! Life is a risk (just ask the dude who got whacked by that plane doing the emergency landing on the beach – oh, wait; he’s dead), but the people who built the machines did their best to build a zero-fault machine! Given the number of parts in each of the vehicles, it’s a wonder more didn’t end in death!

    I don’t feel sorry for those guys! They’re in the records for all time!!

  30. David Rickel

    Re 26, 24

    Spoon!!

  31. gopher65

    I seem to remember reading that Luna’s liquid core is about 20% of its total diameter.

  32. Jeeves

    I wonder if you could find any remains of this stage, like metal shards. Or has the whole thing simply evaporated on impact?

  33. #2 Middle O’Nowhere:
    “I think it would be amazing to be able to visit the original landing sites. I just hope it occurs soon enough that their significance and true history isn’t lost on the visitors.”

    It saddens and appals me to say this, but the significance and true history of “Mankind’s Pinnacle” is already lost on most of the generation whose lifetimes missed it by just a few years! A younger friend of mine – an intelligent and educated guy in his early 30′s – has honestly never heard of Buzz Aldrin!!!!!!!!

    www dot spaceandsanity dot com slash apolloappendixc dot html

  34. Floyd

    #35: Your friend never heard of Buzz Aldrin? That’s really hard to fathom. However, a lot of recent history never made it into school history books, or the text was later eliminated by book committees.

    By the way, I actually watched the first moon landing, with Armstrong and Aldrin unfurling the flag and collecting moon rock samples. Neil Armstrong was a Purdue graduate (I was a student there at the time), and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Purdue on his return.

  35. blf

    I actually watched the first moon landing

    I suspect a reasonable number of the readers here watched, it was only 41 years ago! I myself watched, as a child. And fell asleep (it was past my bedtime), but I do remember Armstrong descending the ladder and other earlier parts of the walks.

    My parents bought our first (and as it turns out, only) ever TV specifically for the occasion. (We weren’t poor, it just that my parents thought TV was absurd—I tend to agree, and have never owned one.) I was glued to the TV for essentially all of the Apollo missions, and also closely followed them in the newspaper (as you might imagine, in a formerly TV-less house there was a lot of reading and reading materials….)

  36. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 17 : Seeing Giordano Bruno’s crater as an anaglyph there reminds me .. This year marks the 410th anniversary of Bruno being burnt at the stake back in Feb. 1600 C.E. This was (at least partly) because of Bruno’s “heretical” belief in other stars being other suns with life on other planets around them & for his accepting the sun-centred Copernican theory over the Church’s earth-centred one.

    Another better link for Giordano Bruno & the anniversary of his execution is this one :

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jtAf4zZvxa7lsBFfN50pziEfjctg

    @ 29. MadScientist & @ 31. Dave Child Says:

    “Thus none of the Apollo 13 trio (or quartet!) ever landed on the Moon which I find kinda sad.” [me # 5.] I wish I had the chance to do 1/10th of the stuff they got to do!! I would have been happy to be part of ANY of the manned flights, Mercury through the Shuttle flights. In the days after the Challenger, I told people that if they had rolled out another Shuttle the next day, I would have been in line to ride it! Life is a risk (just ask the dude who got whacked by that plane doing the emergency landing on the beach – oh, wait; he’s dead), but the people who built the machines did their best to build a zero-fault machine! Given the number of parts in each of the vehicles, it’s a wonder more didn’t end in death!
    I don’t feel sorry for those guys! They’re in the records for all time!!

    Fair enough – I certainly see where you’re coming from there.

    @ 13. B Sandberg Says:

    So, suggestions for a name? I suggest “Haise”, unless it’s already been used.

    Good idea – I second that suggestion. :-)

  37. NASA didn’t seem to have a name for these moonquake experiments. I came up with my own: Apollo Lunar Impact Crater Experiment (ALICE). Also named in honor of Alice Kramden from The Honeymooners.

    I started blogging about them last year:
    http://thoughtcrimewave.blogspot.com/search/label/Alice

    Hopefully, we will get a look at the other three S-IV impact sites before too long.

  38. Mooron

    The original is not a picture. Is a ugly flash animation!

  39. Peter B

    Incidentally, the image of the S-IVB at the top of the post can only be of Apollo 7 – that was the only S-IVB on a manned mission which kept the four panels of the Spacecraft Lunar Array attached after separation of the Command and Service Module. On that mission, the crew practiced rendezvousing with the S-IVB, and they found the panels made them nervous.

    Thereafter, the panels were discarded and drifted away on their own courses. One such panel was the likely cause of some minor concern/curiosity on Apollo 11 – a few hours after the panels were discarded, the crew noticed a blinking light. After reporting its direction, they asked Mission Control if they were looking at the S-IVB, and were told they weren’t. It was almost certainly one of these panels that they saw.

  40. Messier TidyUpper

    @ Peter B ^ belated thanks – I didn’t know that. Very well spotted and smart of you. :-)

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