Farside surprise – Mare Moscoviense and Luna 3

Seen here are the vast lava plains of a region on the Moon’s farside called Mare Moscoviense.

The dark plains of Mare Moscoviense captured from orbit by NASA Apollo 13. Source: NASA on Wikipedia

Lunar maria are solidified lava plains, composed primarily of basalt, and are plentiful on the Moon’s nearside. These are formed by partial melting of the lunar interior, specifically the mantle. But something’s off about the lunar farside, the side that is not visible from Earth due to the Moon being tidally locked to Earth.

Lunar nearside vs. farside. Notice the stark absence of large mare areas on the farside. Images by NASA Clementine spacecraft. Source: LROC blog

The first image of the lunar farside from Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 painted a surprising picture. The farside of the Moon lacked large mare areas, and Moscoviense (named after Russian capital Moscow) was the one of the few exceptions.

Why does the farside lack large maria? Is it because of the thicker crust on the lunar farside which makes it hard for interior lava to rise above? Why is the farside crust thicker?

Landing in Moscoviense to characterize its materials & composition and comparing & contrasting it with nearside samples from Apollo/Luna will answer many mysteries about the lunar farside and the Moon’s evolution. Moscoviense awaits a visitor from Earth.

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