The moon has been in our skies for ages, sometimes as small as a fingernail and sometimes as enormous as a supermoon. However, research reveals that the moon is shrinking, putting missions to explore intriguing lunar locations in peril. Scientists observed in a report published last month in the journal Planetary Science that the moon’s south pole region is “experiencing the effects of lunar contraction,” according to a Smithsonian Institution news release.
We’ve known for some time that the moon is waning. In 2019, NASA reported that the moon has lost about 150 feet over the past few hundred million years due to internal cooling. NASA explains that the Moon, like Earth, experiences earthquakes (called moonquakes) and faults as its interior gradually cools and contracts. The new study helps scientists understand how lunar earthquakes and faults experienced by the moon could affect lunar missions.
“Our model suggests that shallow moonquakes capable of triggering strong earthquakes in the Antarctic region may be caused by the slippage of existing faults or the formation of new thrust faults. This is the view of Tom Waters of the Smithsonian Institution (Tom Waters) and lead author of the paper. said the author in the report. Press release. “Planning for the location and stability of permanent outposts on the Moon must take into account the global distribution of new thrust faults, their potential to become active, and the possibility of new thrust faults as a result of continued global contraction.”
Some lunar earthquakes and faults were discovered near and in areas that NASA said it was considering as a possible landing site for Artemis 3, the first US manned lunar landing in more than 50 years.
Scientists want to study the moon’s south pole because they believe the craters there may hold frozen water that might aid future missions. Last year, India became the first country to land a spacecraft near the poles. Its robotic rovers hunt for traces of frozen water, which might give future astronauts with drinking water or a method for producing rocket propellant. Indian experts predict the next phase will be a manned moon landing mission.
Scientists say some areas of Antarctica are prone to landslides, which could cause problems for crewed missions in the region. NASA planetary scientist and study co-author Renee Weber told CNN that despite concerns about the lunar surface and its stability due to lunar earthquakes and faults, it will not directly affect plans to land Artemis 3 near the South Pole. She explained that moonquakes are not only difficult to predict (like earthquakes), but “strong, shallow moonquakes are uncommon and pose a low risk to short-term missions to the lunar surface.”
However, the research could impact any plans for a long-term human landing on the moon. Will a waning moon influence Earth?
If you don’t plan to visit the moon, should you worry? The Moon impacts our tides and can provide interesting images of the sky (such as a summer solar eclipse). Will these events be impacted? Fortunately, the shrinkage is very, very slow: only 150 feet over the past few hundred million years, according to NASA reports. This means that you may not notice any changes throughout your life. Also, the moon’s mass remains the same, so the tides are unlikely to be affected “in any significant way,” study co-author Nicholas Schmel of the University of Maryland told USA TODAY.
What Does This Mean For Future Lunar Missions?
The new findings suggest that the shrinking process will cause changes in the shape of the surface around the Moon’s south pole. The landing time of Chandrayaan-3 is also close to this time. NASA plans to land the manned Artemis Mission 3 here. A University of Maryland report on the discovery said the Moon’s shrinking “has caused significant surface distortion in its south polar region, including the area where NASA has proposed a manned Artemis 3 landing.”
Moonquakes can leave the slopes of the lunar region vulnerable to landslides, Waters said. According to USA Today, this could threaten future landing sites on the lunar surface.
He said that when planning where to put permanent bases on the Moon, we should think about where new thrust faults are happening around the world, how likely they are to be active, and the chance of more thrust faults occurring due to the ongoing contraction of the Moon. However, Waters clarified that lunar earthquakes will not affect the planned Artemis mission anytime soon. But those aiming to establish lunar outposts may be affected. During a quick mission like Artemis, the chances of encountering moonquakes are lower. But if we put a long-term outpost on the moon, the chances of them experiencing strong moonquakes will increase,” the scientist told USA Today. Will a waning moon impact Earth?
No, people on Earth have no reason to worry. The reduction is too small to impact eclipses, full moons or tidal cycles.
“Fortunately, the mass of the moon doesn’t change when it shrinks, so it doesn’t have a significant effect on the tidal cycle,” study co-author Nicholas Schmeier of the University of Maryland told USA TODAY.