Research: Shrinking moon may be generating moonquakes

14 Mai, 2019, 07:09 | Auteur: Therese Cote

Earth and the moon might be similar in the geological department: A new study suggests that the moon is shrinking and has active faults responsible for moonquakes on the lunar surface.

These moonquakes likely happen because the moon is quivering as it shrinks, researchers added.

Astronauts from NASA's Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 left behind seismometers on the Moon to scan the lunar orb for tectonic activity.

The scarps tend to be around 10yds high and a few miles long - making them resemble a giant stairway on the lunar surface. Unlike the flexible skin on a grape, the Moon's surface crust is brittle, so it breaks as the Moon shrinks, forming "thrust faults" where one section of crust is pushed up over a neighboring part. New research suggests that these faults may still be active.

"It's really remarkable to see how data from almost 50 years ago and from the [orbiter] mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon's interior processes should go", said John Keller in a statement, study author and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter Scale". This revisiting of the data revealed the approximate source of dozens of lunar quakes detected by the instruments.

Moonquakes can have origins other than tectonic activity in the lunar crust.

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US astronauts placed seismometers on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 missions, recording 28 shallow quakes up to nearly 5 magnitude, which is moderate strength.

The Apollo missions also detected about one moonquake per day resulting from space rocks hitting the lunar surface. This rules out the possibility of asteroid impacts or rumblings from the moon's interior. These weird moonquakes were detected by five seismometers placed on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 missions.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of the Taurus-Littrow valley, which features a scarp cutting across it. They will need to take the potential for moonquakes into consideration by avoiding landing near or building any permanent structures on particularly "active" areas, Watters says.

In a study published in Nature Geoscience on Monday, a team of scientists examined data from the LRO and compared it to the location of moonquakes recorded during the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s. "The connection between the location and timing of shallow moonquakes and known young faults is further evidence that our moon is a dynamic world".

A 2010 analysis of imagery from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found that the moon shriveled like a raisin as its interior cooled, leaving behind thousands of cliffs called thrust faults on the moon's surface.

Much as a grape wrinkles as it dries to become a raisin, the moon also wrinkles as its interior cools and shrinks.

"It is truly wonderful that the datasets collected by the astronauts so many years ago are still yielding new scientific findings about our moon", Schmerr said.

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