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There are so many more craters on the moon than we thought

A recent study reveals over 100,000 newly discovered craters dating as far back as 4 billion years ago.

Approaching the crater Atlas. Photo copyrighted by Richard Garrard and used with permission. Richard Garrard

With the help of artificial intelligence and data from lunar orbiters, more than 109,000 previously unidentified craters have been discovered the moon, according to a new study in Nature Communications.

According to the study, the number of known craters on the moon’s surface is now more than a dozen times larger than the 9,137 craters officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union, CNN reports.

The study’s lead author, Chen Yang, an associate professor of Earth sciences at Jilin University in China, recently told Live Science that the study yielded “the largest lunar crater database with automatic extraction for the mid- and low-latitude regions of the moon.”

According to Live Science, the majority of the moon’s craters are categorized as “impact craters,” meaning they were formed by a meteor strike. Impact craters are the cosmic equivalent of fossils, Yang states, as they “record the history of the solar system.”

Identifying these “fossils” can pose quite a challenge at times as they vary dramatically in size and can overlap and erode over time.

With these complications in mind, Yang’s team used data from thousands of previously identified craters to create a program that locates new ones. The program was applied to data collected by China’s Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 lunar orbiters, and the results revealed 109,956 additional craters on the moon’s surface, Live Science reports.

The vast majority of the craters were categorized as “small” and “medium” sized, though, from a pedestrian perspective. These craters are still quite large — ranging from 0.6 miles to 60 miles in diameter.

One of the more significant discoveries from the study revealed that the craters spanned all five of the moon’s geological periods, with some dating as far back as 4 billion years ago.

Live Science reports that Yang’s team hopes to apply their crater-locating method to other celestial bodies in the solar system, like Mars, in the near future.

In December, China became only the third country in the world to successfully collect rocks from the moon when the unmanned Chang’e-5 mission returned to Earth carrying the nation’s first moon samples, CNN reports.