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Detailed gravity maps of moon reveal a highly beaten-up interior, surprising scientists

  • nasa moon map 2012.jpg

    This image depicting the porosity of the lunar highland crust was derived using bulk density data from NASA's GRAIL mission and independent grain density measurements from NASA's Apollo moon mission samples. (SA/JPL-Caltech/ IPGP)

  • nasa moon map 2012 1.jpg

    This map shows the gravity field of the moon as measured by NASA's GRAIL mission. The viewing perspective, known as a Mercator projection, shows the far side of the moon in the center and the nearside (as viewed from Earth) at either side. (NASA/ARC/MIT)

The moon took quite a beating in its early days, more than previously believed, scientists reported Wednesday.

This surprising new view of the moon comes from detailed gravity mapping by twin spacecraft, which slipped into orbit around the celestial body earlier this year.

Evidence of a highly fractured lunar interior just below the surface suggests that other rocky planets including Earth would have suffered similar bombardment from space rocks early in their history.

Measurements by the NASA spacecraft called Ebb and Flow also found that the moon's crust, or outermost layer, is much thinner than scientists thought — only about 25 miles thick.

The findings were presented Wednesday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and published online in the journal Science.

Though past missions have measured lunar gravity — about one-sixth Earth's pull — Ebb and Flow are the first spacecraft dedicated to this pursuit.

To collect data, the washing machine-size spacecraft flew in formation, orbiting about 35 miles above the moon's surface. Their positions allowed them to peer deep into the moon.

The spacecraft also managed to see landforms on the moon in greater detail than before including volcanoes, basins and craters.

The mission is scheduled to end later this month when Ebb and Flow crash into the moon.