Research highlight

Planetary science: Over 100,000 new craters identified on the Moon

Nature Communications

December 23, 2020

More than 109,000 previously unrecognized craters have been identified on the Moon’s surface, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week.

Craters occupy most of the surface of the Moon. However, manual and automatic methods to detect the number of craters have resulted in inconsistencies as to the precise total. For example, it is often hard to detect irregular or degraded craters using automatic methods.

Chen Yang and colleagues set out to identify lunar impact craters using a transfer learning strategy — a machine learning approach in which previous knowledge gained is used to solve a further problem. The authors first trained a deep neural network using data from 7,895 previously identified and 1,411 dated craters. Using data from the Chang’E-1 and Chang’E-2 orbiters, the network was able to identify 109,956 new craters — dozens of times larger than the number previously recognized throughout the mid- and low-latitude regions of the Moon. Of the craters with a diameter larger than 8 kilometres, the network estimated the ages of 18,996 of these. The findings have resulted in the creation of a new lunar crater database of the mid- and low-latitude regions of the Moon.

The authors suggest that their approach could be adapted for use with other bodies in the Solar System and could help extract more information than is possible with manual analysis methods.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-20215-y

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