Last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a study titled "Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin" suggested that we're all going to die, probably. I'm paraphrasing.
This study — I did not read it entirely or at all because it costs $42, but I did read the abstract for free — reports data that "point to the existence of a large excess of mass in the Moon's mantle under the South Pole-Aitken basin. This anomaly has a minimum mass of 2.18 × 10 18 kg and likely extends to depths of more than 300 km."
So: That's very heavy. I turned my phone calculator sideways, which enables it to do fancy math, and it told me that 10 18 = 1e+18, so I mean, yeah. Whoa. Don't even talk to me about it. Please.
Plus, multiply that by 2.18 and we're talking a lot, I'm pretty sure, and to a depth of 186.4 miles. (That one was easy, I have a unit conversion app!)
"Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground," commented Dr. Peter B. James of Baylor University, the study's lead author, to Baylor Media Communications.
So, I'm thinking spaceship, obviously.
This is significant timing, coming up as we are on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's historic moon walk July 20. We sent the poor guy up there all while there was an anomaly lurking!
James and his colleagues suggest it's "metal from the core of a differentiated impactor or oxides from the last stage of magma ocean crystallization." But come on, I've seen "Independence Day." Several times.
And "The Empire Strikes Back" where Han Solo and Princess Leia hide in what they think is a cavern, but it turns out to be a huge space worm.
Plus, I read a considerable amount of science fiction, and all I know is that it rarely ends well when "moon" and "anomaly" exist in the same sentence. We were thisclose to a very different outcome from the moon landing, is what I'm saying:
Scene: Moon's surface
Earth is a beautiful, tiny marble in the far distance. The lunar module is parked nearby.
Neil Armstrong: This is one small step for ...
Alien Being: Hiya.
Armstrong (unruffled; the man was a rock star): Where did you come from?
AB: That spaceship buried down there under the Aitken Basin.
Armstrong: Huh. Well, it's interesting to meet you, and to see that you're humanoid in form. Sometimes it really bothers me that alien life forms in science fiction always seem to be bipedal and humanoid. Like, I recognize the evolutionary advantages of this form — opposable thumbs alone, you know — but don't you think it's a terrible example of human arrogance to presume most of the universe looks at least vaguely like us?
AB: You're speaking for the author now, aren't you?
AB: Say, you're from Earth, right? What've you got down there in the way of organic and inorganic resources, we're talking metals and carbon-based life forms and such?
Armstrong: Oh, the usual. We do OK.
AB: You're not using them right now, are you?
AB: Great! See you down there!
I guess what it comes down to is that I'm basically a chicken. I hear the word "anomaly" and I react the same way I do whenever I hear a strange noise in the night: Lie perfectly still and breathe shallowly, so that the murderers in my bedroom will say, "Oh hey, she's already dead. We don't need to bother killing her."
Anomalies, to me, are the point at which things get weird. Sure, they've driven exploration and inspired scientific discovery since Day 1, but they also account for the persistence of Twinkies, say, and inexplicable success of TikTok (it's an app, ask a 14-year-old).
Anomalies indicate things aren't what we thought they were, meaning an infinity of new possibilities, new ideas, new reasons to head star-ward, or whatever. Some people are very excited by this, I guess. These are the same people, then, who presumably won't mind being enslaved by aliens.
So here's to them and to you, Neil Armstrong, and to every glorious geek who got you and Buzz and all the others to the edge of our craziest dreams and pushed them further.
And an unreserved ad astra to everyone who observes an anomaly and thinks, "Hmm, I probably should poke that with a stick."
I, however, am not one of these folks, so I'll just be over here lying very still and breathing shallowly.
Email Rachel Sauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.