SEDONA — Another very famous and most conspicuous feature on the lunar surface is the lava filled impact crater we call Plato. Crater Plato is named after the ancient Greek philosopher who founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first school of higher learning in the Western world.

Plato was also a learned student of Socrates.

On the moon the crater Plato is on the northeastern shore of Mare Imbrium, at the western extremity of the Montes Alpes mountain range. 

Crater Plato is quite large, being some 68 miles in diameter. Crater Plato is also very old, according to NASA, at 3.84 billion years of age. This ancient crater also lacks a central peak commonly seen in lunar craters of a similar size. This may be because of the lava flow that has filled much of the crater’s floor with a 3-kilometer-thick layer of lava, burying it. Plato’s rim has several rocky projections, with a height reaching 2 kilometers.

Another interesting feature of Plato’s rim is that a few giant landslides have occurred where parts of the crater rim leaned inward slightly and collapsed.

On Plato’s floor we can see, with a small telescope, a few, some say dozens, of tiny “craterlets” formed from impacts sometime after Plato’s original formation.

This crater has been the subject of several controversies, one of the most interesting being that of a mist-like fog or clouds being reported by some observers vanishing as the sun rose, brightening the crater.

In addition, a luminous milky white light emanating from this crater has reportedly been seen. Early astronomers have also reported numerous strange points of light on Plato’s floor. However, this well-known lunar object has been photographed, thousands of times by NASA, and amateurs, never to confirm any of these bizarre sightings.

Another lunar feature relatively near Plato is the 190 kilometer long and 10 kilometer wide Alpine Valley. This valley is the straightest object on the moon and was formed when land sank between two parallel fault lines. In geologic terms this is known as a “graben.”

The Alpine Valley was discovered in 1727 by Francesco Bianchini, but its name was not officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union until much later in the 1960s.

The moon’s mountains that form this valley are called the “Alps.” According to NASA: These lunar Alps form the rim of the Imbrium impact basin that now holds the vast lava plains of Mare Imbrium. With a small telescope you can see this for yourself to be true.

I have said it before but it bears repeating: The moon should not be overlooked as a subject of wonder. A small backyard telescope of 3 inches or less can provide stunning lunar views, views that can inspire young and old alike!

Former Arcadian Victor C. Rogus (F.R.A.S.) is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, London, living in Sedona, Arizona.


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