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The moon is shrinking and it could have major impact on future space missions

Poppy Bilderbeck

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| Last updated 

The moon is shrinking and it could have major impact on future space missions

Featured Image Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images / NASA/Newsmakers/Getty

Scientists have revealed the impact the moon shrinking could have on future space missions.

So far, there have been six successful space missions which have landed humans on the moon, and there are certainly many more yet to come.

However, the moon shrinking in circumference poses increasing risks for astronauts.

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A team of lunar scientists looked into how the moon shrinking impacts its surface, as part of a study titled: Tectonics and Seismicity of the Lunar South Polar Region published by the American Astronomical Society in The Planetary Science Journal on 25 January.

The study looks at how when the moon shrinks. Its surface pushes up against itself and forms creases and one part of the moon is more affected by this than any other - the south polar region.

But why?

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The moon is shrinking. Credit: Getty images/ Rami Alsayed/ NurPhoto
The moon is shrinking. Credit: Getty images/ Rami Alsayed/ NurPhoto

Well, the team of scientists discovered the area's surface is more creased as a result of a moonquake which took place over 50 years ago.

The moonquake was one of the most powerful ever recorded by Apollo seismometers. A moonquake, similar to an earthquake, is capable of producing similar levels of destruction such as building damage. However, moonquakes can last for hours compared to most earthquakes which last seconds or minutes.

Co-author Professor Nicholas Schmerr, from the University of Maryland explains, as quoted by the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences: "You can think of the moon’s surface as being dry, grounded gravel and dust. Over billions of years, the surface has been hit by asteroids and comets, with the resulting angular fragments constantly getting ejected from the impacts.

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"As a result, the reworked surface material can be micron-sized to boulder-sized, but all very loosely consolidated. Loose sediments make it very possible for shaking and landslides to occur."

NASA's Artemis III is planned to land where the blue dot is. The pink dots represent possible epicenters of the moonquake at the South Pole. Credit: NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution
NASA's Artemis III is planned to land where the blue dot is. The pink dots represent possible epicenters of the moonquake at the South Pole. Credit: NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution

The team then used modeling to map out where the weakest areas are located on the moon, which could be more badly impacted by moonquakes, and subsequently susceptible to landslides.

Senior scientist emeritus in the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies and lead author on the study, Thomas R Watter adds: "Our modeling suggests that shallow moonquakes capable of producing strong ground shaking in the south polar region are possible from slip events on existing faults or the formation of new thrust faults."

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And this could obviously have an affect on astronauts either trying to land on the moon or their safety while they're on it.

Some areas of the moon are more susceptible to landslides. Credit: NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution
Some areas of the moon are more susceptible to landslides. Credit: NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution

With NASA's crewed Artemis III mission set to land on this part of the moon, Watter warns: "The global distribution of young thrust faults, their potential to be active and the potential to form new thrust faults from ongoing global contraction should be considered when planning the location and stability of permanent outposts on the moon."

Schmerr resolves: "As we get closer to the crewed Artemis mission’s launch date, it’s important to keep our astronauts, our equipment and infrastructure as safe as possible.

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"This work is helping us prepare for what awaits us on the moon - whether that’s engineering structures that can better withstand lunar seismic activity or protecting people from really dangerous zones."

Topics: News, Science, Space, World News, Technology, NASA

Poppy Bilderbeck
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