A group of scientists have discovered several strange, dust-covered boulders on the Moon. The region of Gamma Rainier, initially thought to be a crater, turned out to be a flat spot, sparkling brightly in the darkness of the vast lunar plain Oceanus Procellarum. The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets.
Moon vortices like Rainier Gamma are thought to be formed by magnetized rocks that deflect particles from the solar wind. However, other theories suggest that they may have arisen from the interaction of magnetic anomalies and electrically charged dust particles kicked up by micrometeorites.
To better understand these interactions, scientists, led by planetary scientist Ottaviano Ruesch, studied millions of images of the Moon taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. They eventually discovered a boulder that was strangely reflecting light, prompting further investigation.
“We recognized a boulder with characteristic dark areas in just one image,” says Ruesch. “This stone was very different from all the others, scattering less light back towards the sun.”
To identify such boulders, scientists used artificial intelligence, which sorted the strange boulders by size and reflectivity. The algorithm identified about 130,000 possible options, half of which were carefully studied.
Although some of the rocks were likely formed by impact with the crater, scientists suspect their strange properties are due to the thin layer of dust that has accumulated on some of the boulders. The next step for scientists will be to use the research results to study the processes of formation of lunar vortices.
Currently, NASA and researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory are preparing to send a lunar lander to Gamma Rayner to study its magnetic anomalies. This mission is planned for 2024.