A large crater on the Earth-facing side of the Moon has been named after aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart – the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
This the first detection of its kind in at least a century, scientists said.
The 200km-wide buried crater was found in data from NASA’s Grail spacecraft, which mapped the Moon’s gravity field.
The results were presented at a major scientific meeting in Texas.
The discovery was the outcome of work by Rohan Sood, Loic Chappaz and Prof. H. Jay Melosh at Purdue University, where Amelia Earhart was a member of the academic faculty from 1935 until her death in 1937.
The find was made while the scientists were searching the data for evidence of hollow underground structures known as lava tubes.
Speaking at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Prof. H. Jay Melosh said: “No-one to our knowledge has ever recognized this as the broken rim of a crater, and we wouldn’t have either except that gravity shows it up very clearly as a big circular anomaly [in the Grail data].”
The Serenitatis Basin is thought to have been created by a giant impact about 3.9 billion years ago. So Earhart crater, which lies partially buried under the debris, must be at least that age, but how much older is not known at this stage.
Grail measured variations in the acceleration of gravity, which can provide a window into the Moon’s internal structure.
The researchers used a mathematical correction that takes away the part that is due to the topography of the lunar surface, in order to show what was underneath.
Further mathematical modeling carried out by Loic Chappaz revealed that the signature picked up near the Serenitatis Basin could be best explained by a crater 200km in diameter.
The team members chose Amelia Earhart because of her association with Purdue and her contribution as a female aviation pioneer.
Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a solo transatlantic flight in 1932, piloting a single-engined plane from Newfoundland to County Derry in Northern Ireland.
She set many other records during her lifetime.
Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra aircraft.
The name is technically temporary, since the naming of astronomical objects and features needs to be approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). But the team is hopeful that the name will stick.
The LPSC runs from March 16 to 20 in The Woodlands, near Houston.