Tycho Crater’s Central Peak on the Moon

Images of Tycho Crater on the Moon.
January 30, 2019
CreditNASA Goddard/Arizona State University
Historical DateJune 10, 2011
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NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft pointed the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera NACs to capture a dramatic sunrise view of Tycho crater.

A very popular target with amateur astronomers, Tycho is located at 43.37°S, 348.68°E, and is about 51 miles (82 km) in diameter. The summit of the central peak is 1.24 miles (2 km) above the crater floor. The distance from Tycho's floor to its rim is about 2.92 miles (4.7 km).

Boulder on peak on the Moon.
Tycho crater's central peak complex, shown here, is about 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) wide, left to right (southeast to northwest in this view).
NASA Goddard/Arizona State University

Many rock fragments ("clasts") ranging in size from some 33 feet (10 m) to hundreds of yards are exposed in the central peak slopes. Were these distinctive outcrops formed as a result of crushing and deformation of the target rock as the peak grew? Or do they represent preexisting rock layers that were brought intact to the surface?

Tycho's features are so steep and sharp because the crater is only about 110 million years old -- young by lunar standards. Over time micrometeorites and not-so-micro meteorites, will grind and erode these steep slopes into smooth mountains. For a preview of Tycho's central peak may appear like in a few billion years, look at Bhabha crater.

Overhead view of impact crater on the Moon.
This Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image mosaic shows Tycho. North is up in this image, which is about 81 miles wide (130 kilometers).
NASA Goddard/Arizona State University

On May 27, 2010, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a top-down view of the summit (below), including the large boulder seen in the above image. Also note the fractured impact melt deposit that surrounds the boulder.

And the smooth area on top of the boulder, is that also frozen impact melt? These images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera clearly show that the central peak formed very quickly: The peak was there when impact melt that was thrown straight up during the impact came back down, creating mountains almost instantaneously. Or did the melt get there by a different mechanism? The fractures probably formed over time as the steep walls of the central peak slowly eroded and slipped downhill. Eventually the peak will erode back, and this massive boulder will slide 1.24 miles (2 km) to the crater floor.

Close up of Boulder on the Moon.
A vertical view of Tycho's central peak summit, highlighting the 400-foot-wide boulder.
NASA Goddard/Arizona State University