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Compositional evidence for an impact origin of the Moon’s Procellarum basin


The asymmetry between the nearside and farside of the Moon is evident in the distribution of mare basalt1, crustal thickness2 and concentrations of radioactive elements3, but its origin remains controversial. According to one attractive scenario, a gigantic impact early in the Moon’s history produced the observed dichotomy; the putative 3,000-km-diameter Procellarum basin has been suggested to be a relic of this ancient impact3,4,5. Low-calcium pyroxene can be formed during an impact by melting a mixture of crust and mantle materials6,7 or by excavating differentiated cumulates from the lunar magma ocean8. Therefore, the association of low-calcium pyroxene with a lunar basin could indicate an impact origin. Here we use spectral mapping data from KAGUYA/SELENE (ref. 9) to show that low-calcium pyroxene is concentrated around two established impact structures, the South Pole–Aitken and Imbrium basins. In addition, we detect a high concentration of low-calcium pyroxene at Procellarum, which supports an impact origin of the ancient basin. We propose that, in forming the largest known basin on the Moon, the impact excavated the nearside’s primary feldspathic crust, which derived from the lunar magma ocean. A secondary feldspathic crust would have later recrystallized from the sea of impact melt, leading to two distinct sides of the Moon.

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Figure 1: Location map of the LCP-rich exposures on the Moon.
Figure 2: False-colour composite images of four craters encircling the Procellarum basin.
Figure 3: Multiband spectra of the four craters in Fig. 2.
Figure 4: Continuum-removed spectra of the Apollo sample 14310 (ref. 23) and that of the nearest LCP-rich point in Fra Mauro.

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The images and spectra used here were acquired by the JAXA lunar orbiter KAGUYA/SELENE. We thank Fujitsu and the JASCO Corporation for their dedicated efforts in developing the Spectral Profiler.

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Authors and Affiliations



R.N. and S.Y. performed the spectral analysis and model calculations. S.Y., T.M., Y.Y. and Y.O. carried out the data reduction and instrument calibration. S.Y. and N.H. contributed to the qualitative estimate of the impact melt production. T.H. contributed to the comparison of the spaceborne lunar spectra and laboratory spectra of returned Apollo samples. Y.I., T.M., H.T. and K.S. solidified the results of this paper from geophysical and mineralogical points of view. T.M. and M.O. served as principal investigators to acquire the images and spectra from the Spectral Profiler and the Multiband Imager onboard KAGUYA. R.N., S.Y. and T.M. worked jointly to write the paper. All authors discussed the interpretation of the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ryosuke Nakamura.

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Nakamura, R., Yamamoto, S., Matsunaga, T. et al. Compositional evidence for an impact origin of the Moon’s Procellarum basin. Nature Geosci 5, 775–778 (2012).

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