The Moon’s Other Axis

A six degree True Polar Wander occurred on the Moon due to ancient volcanic activity. Image: University of Arizona/James Tuttle Keane

It’s tempting to think that the Moon never changes. You can spend your whole life looking at it, and see no evidence of change whatsoever. In fact, the ancients thought the whole Universe was unchanging.You may have heard of a man named Aristotle. He thought the Universe was eternal and unchanging. Obviously, with our knowledge of the Big Bang, stellar evolution, and planetary formation, we know better. Still, the placid and unchanging face of the Moon can tempt us into thinking astronomers are making up all this evolving universe stuff.But now, according to a new paper in Nature, the Moon’s axis of rotation is different now than it was billions of years ago. Not only that, but volcanoes may been responsible for it. Volcanoes! On our placid little Moon.The clue to this lunar True Polar Wander (TPW) is in the water ice locked in the shadows of craters on the Moon. When hydrogen was discovered on the surface of the Moon in the 1990s by the Lunar Prospector probe, scientists suspected that they would eventually find water ice. Subsequent missions proved the presence of water ice, especially in craters near the polar regions. But the distribution of that water-ice wasn’t uniform.You would expect to see ice uniformly distributed in the shadows of craters in the polar regions, but that’s not what scientists have found. Instead, some craters had no evidence of ice at all, which led the team behind this paper to conclude that these ice-free craters must have been exposed to the Sun at some point. What else would explain it?The way that the ice in these craters is distributed forms two trails that lead away from each pole. They’re mirror images of each other, but they don’t conform with the Moon’s current axis of rotation, which is —> Read More

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