MOON: ancient craters and lava plains

The most ancient formations of the lunar surface are the 4+ billion year old highlands, and the areas where the surface is so densely covered with craters, that a newly created one surely wipes away a few earlier craters. The large basins and the smallest craters were all scooped out by asteroids and space debris coming from the outer space and hitting the Moon. The “seas” (mare) are actually ancient lava plains, which filled up the earlier large impact basins with many layers of lava. The rocks on the lunar surface have been broken up,  pulverised by “space dust” for billions of years, creating moon dust covering the entire surface. The ’face’ of the Moon has been unchanged for billions of years. It looked almost the same in the age of the dinosaurs, when the continents of the Earth had completely different shapes. The youngest formations are the light-rayed craters. There is no visible sign of water: even the meandering channels of the Moon were formed by volcanic lava.


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What makes Moonlight? It reflects the sunlight.
Why is a dark part of the Moon faintly visible sometimes? That part reflects the light of the Earth; it is also called “Earthshine”.
Which one is the dark side of the Moon? The side not currently lit by the Sun.
Are there volcanoes on the Moon? There are a few. But they are either very flat or very small.
Why are there so many craters on the moon? Because they have been forming for more than four billion years and there is no wind or water on the Moon that could destroy them.
Is there lava on the Moon? There is cooled lava in the maria, for example.
Why are little heads in the craters? Some of them show the faces of those after whom a crater is named. Others are only funny characters.
What are the red signs with numbers? Abbreviations of names of spaceships that landed on the Moon.
What are the coloured dots? Abbreviations of names of space probes that landed on or smashed  into the Moon.
What do the circles on the Moon mean? They are the rims of the craters.
Why are there light and dark spots on the Moon? The dark spots (about 3 billion years old) are covered by lava, the light ones are densely cratered areas composed of ancient (about 4 billion years old), less dark rock.
Why is the Moon grey? The Moon rocks are as dark as if they are made of coal, but they seem to be grey because of the strong sun light.
Has a human ever been to the Moon? The only planetary body, apart from the Earth, that a human has reached (so far) is the nearby Moon. Twelve people have walked there, all Americans: 11 jet fighter pilots (six at the U.S. Navy, 5 at the Air Force), and one geologist. All the other astronauts were working either in orbit around the Moon, or in orbit around the Earth.



  • Body type: moon
  • Body composition: rocky
  • Atmosphere: none
  • Liquid: none
  • Endogenic features: lava plains (maria)
  • Exogenic features: none
  • Cosmogenic features: impact craters of every size everywhere, lunar dust
  • Common features: craters
  • Rare features: lava channels, small volcanic domes.
  • Life limiting parameter: no atmosphere
  • Nomenclature: We follow the traditions set in the 1640s when features of the Moon were named. Maria (seas of basalt) are named after meteorological features (rain, storms etc.) because at that time people believed that the Moon affects the terrestrial weather, especially morning dew. Craters are named after famous scientists, philosophers and also commemorate astronauts.
  • Highest point: Far side highland
  • Lowest point: A crater within South Pole Aitken Basin, a very ancient, very large basin on the far side.
  • Age: cratered highlands are older than 3.9 Gyr, smooth maria are about 3 Gyr.



Moon map: (Illustrator: László Herbszt)  The map of the Moon plays with craters and commemorative names: inside some of the selected craters, the person it is named for is shown. Some other craters have funny creatures inside. Visually, the map shows many minute details and is drawn in the style of pre-20th-century engravings. The visual design of the control panel uses the Apollo spacecraft’s control panels as a model. The map shows the mare-terra albedo distinction along with crater rays and also highlights the optically invisible basin outlines, which can only be seen in topographic maps.


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