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June 1 2013

Mystery of Moon's Lumpy Gravity Explained


A pair of spacecraft that meticulously mapped the moon's gravitational field has helped astronomers solve the long-standing mystery of why the moon is so gravitationally lumpy.

A team of scientists used data collected by NASA's twin Grail probes— which ended their yearlong gravity-mapping mission in December 2012 by crashing into the moon — to glean new details about strange concentrations of mass that sit hidden beneath the lunar surface. These geologic structures, called mascons (short for mass concentrations), are so dense they alter the moon's gravity field, causing perturbations that can tug a spacecraft lower in its orbit around the moon, or push it wildly off course.

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