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The Moon's Surface Features

The Moon's Surface Features

Introduction: On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the Moon. Apollo 11 had landed on the Moon's Mare Tranquillitatis, better known as the Sea of Tranquillity. Until this point in history, our knowledge of the surface of the Moon depended upon careful observation with the human eye and telescopes. For the first time, we had eyewitness accounts, photographs, videos, and material samples from a planetary body other than Earth! 
 
Our Moon is a barren place. It is covered in a thick layer of regolith, or the dusty remains of broken rock. It has only an extremely thin atmospheric type layer composed of gases different from those found in Earth's atmosphere. Without a thick atmosphere that would allow for weathering or convection currents to drive tectonic activity, the Moon's surface remains largely unchanged. Its surface features show its early history, locking the Moon's landscape in time.

Map of the Moon
map of the near side of the Moon

Major Types of Lunar Surface Features
MariaThe maria are the dark areas of the Moon. Once thought to be seas, we now know that these regions are actually remnants of ancient lava flows. The maria are broad plains of hardened basaltic lava. Mare is the singular form of maria. Can you find Mare Tranquillitatis on the map?
HighlandsMost of the Moon's surface is covered in highlands, also called lunar terrae. Highlands appear lighter in color than their darker counterparts, the maria, because they are composed of lighter silicate minerals. The Moon does not produce its own light. Rather, it reflects light from the Sun. Areas of the Moon that appear brighter are really reflecting back more sunlight than darker areas. The measure of how much light a surface reflects is called albedo.
CratersThe young Moon was bombarded with meteorites. As the meteorites impacted with the Moon, they scarred its surface with large depressions called craters. A crater is usually rimed with displaced debris, called ejecta, from the impact. Can you see the lines extending out from the crater Tycho on the map? These are rays, or streaks of ejecta material.

Directions for This Lesson: In this lesson, you will learn about the major surface features of the Moon. Try the practice questions to see what you already know, then try the activity to learn more about the Moon's surface.

 

Activity:
Take a trip to the Moon and explore its surface with Google Moon. Be sure to select the flags and zoom in to see up close images of the Moon's features.

Practice:
Extend your learning with the worksheet and additional resources.

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