Researchers announced the discovery of a 124-mile-wide crater on the moon, and they plan to name it after Amelia Earhart.
The research team spotted the crater through an analysis of data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), Purdue University reported. The crater is partially visible on the moon's surface, but most of it can only be detected from gravity signatures such as what was captured by GRAIL.
"This is one of the biggest craters on the moon, but no one knew it was there," said Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, who led the research. "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."
The scientists were testing a new technique that sharpens the GRAIL data, allowing them to notice new features. The analysis revealed an intriguing round surface feature that had never been seen before.
"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," said Rohan Sood, a graduate student in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics who worked on the project and presented the findings. "We were zoomed in on one little piece of it. We first tried to model it as a small crater, but we had to go bigger and bigger and bigger to match what the data was telling us."
The findings back up the new analysis technique, and in the future the scientists hope to use the method to identify even more feature beneath the moon's surface. The research could even reveal underground tunnels created by lunar lava flows that could act as shelters for human habitats.
The findings were announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The team has dubbed the crater Earhart, after the famous aviator, but the names of planetary features must be submitted and approved by The International Astronomical Union.