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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Researchers reveal that the moon is shrinking

The moon, our Earth's natural satellite, is shrinking, and this phenomenon is accompanied by seismic activity known as moonquakes.

Researchers from the University of Maryland have unveiled a celestial mystery that could potentially jeopardize the safety of future lunar explorers. The moon, our Earth’s natural satellite, is shrinking, and this phenomenon is accompanied by seismic activity known as moonquakes. The implications of this discovery point to increased landslide risks, particularly in areas near fault zones, raising concerns for the safety of astronauts during upcoming lunar missions.

Moon’s Diminishing Circumference

Over the past few hundred million years, the moon has experienced a loss of up to 100 meters in circumference. This intriguing phenomenon is attributed to the moon’s core cooling, resulting in significant surface warping, particularly in parts of the lunar south pole. The implications of this lunar evolution go beyond scientific curiosity, as they have direct implications for the safety and stability of future human outposts on the Moon.

Read More: NASA’s Artemis Program Faces Delays in Moon Missions

Fault Zones and Moonquakes

Study co-author Thomas Watters from the National Air and Space Museum emphasizes the importance of considering the global distribution of young thrust faults and their potential to be active when planning lunar outposts. Faults in the moon’s southern polar region have been linked to a powerful moonquake recorded by Apollo seismometers over 50 years ago. This connection reveals that specific areas of the Moon’s south pole are particularly susceptible to landslides triggered by seismic shaking, posing potential dangers to astronauts and lunar infrastructure.

Landslide Risks and Human Settlements

Moonquakes, originating from faults within the moon’s interior, have the capacity to damage human-made structures and equipment on the lunar surface. These seismic events can last for hours, potentially causing devastation to future human settlements. The loose sediment on the Moon’s surface, formed from billions of years of asteroid and comet collisions, adds another layer of complexity. The surface, composed of “dry, grounded gravel and dust,” is susceptible to shaking and landslides, posing a challenge for the establishment of stable and safe lunar habitats.

Understanding Lunar Geology

Dr. Nicholas Schmerr, another author of the study, sheds light on the composition of the moon’s surface. The fragments resulting from asteroid and comet collisions, ranging from micron-sized to boulder-sized, are loosely consolidated. This characteristic makes the lunar surface susceptible to shaking, presenting challenges for engineering structures that can withstand lunar seismic activity. The study is a crucial step towards identifying safe locations for future human exploration on the Moon.

Read More: China unveils its Moon plans

As NASA gears up for its first crewed flight to the moon in over five decades as part of the Artemis mission, researchers are diligently working to identify potentially hazardous locations on the lunar surface. The goal is to develop structures that can better withstand lunar seismic activity and protect astronauts from dangerous zones. Dr. Schmerr emphasizes that this research is essential in preparing for the challenges that await humanity on the Moon.