With the help of the data gathered by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), researchers from Purdue University have discovered one of the widest craters on the side of the Moon which faces Earth. It is the first of its kind which has been detected in a century and has been named Earhart after the pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart. The newly discovered buried crater has been estimated to be at least 3.9 billion years old and is 124 mile-wide. The discovery was announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.
Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, was a member of the Purdue faculty as a career counselor and adviser to the Department of Aeronautics from 1935 until her death in 1937. In 1937, while attempting to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Researcher Rohan Sood said “When she was lost, she was actually flying a Purdue plane, so we wanted to recognize her in some form.” The name of the crater is provisional and will be submitted to the International Astronomical Union for approval.
The crater was discovered when the research team was analyzing the GRAIL data for evidence of underground structures called lava tubes. On the surface of the Moon, only a small portion of the crater rim is visible and the rest is buried. H. Jay Melosh, one of the researchers and a member of the GRAIL science team, explained that it has been detected by its gravity signal captured by GRAIL. Melosh added “This is one of the biggest craters on the moon, but no one knew it was there. Craters are named after explorers or scientists, and Amelia Earhart had not yet received this honor. She attempted a flight around the world, and we thought she deserved to make it all the way to the moon for inspiring so many future explorers and astronauts.”
Sood stated that while examining the GRAIL data, the research team observed an unexpected circular feature. “The feature turned out to be the rim of an ancient crater, but it was so big we did not even recognize it as that at first,” he said. Initially the researchers thought it was a small crater but later found that it is a big one. Melosh explained that the part of the crater which is on the surface has always been visible with a small telescope or a good pair of binoculars. He added “But no one recognized it because they didn’t have the extra piece of information — the gravity field.”