Science

The Moon Is Shrinking and It’s Causing ‘Moonquakes’ on the Lunar Surface

The Moon Is Shrinking and It’s Causing ‘Moonquakes’ on the Lunar Surface”

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.

"We think it's very likely that these eight quakes were produced by faults slipping as stress built up when the lunar crust was compressed by global contraction and tidal forces, indicating that the Apollo seismometers recorded the shrinking moon and the moon is still tectonically active", Watters said in a statement.

Another Nasa project, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbitor (LRO) spacecraft, has snapped thousands of images of the fault scarps on the moon since 2009, showing various landslides on the Moon's surface. This incredible process causes the Moon's delicate surface to crack and break away, creating tectonic faults.

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. "You don't often get to see active tectonics anywhere but Earth, so it's very exciting to think these faults may still be producing moonquakes".

More than 3,500 of the faults have been identified by the LRO. Their analysis provided more accurate epicenter location data for 28 moonquakes recorded from 1969 to 1977. "We learned a lot from the Apollo missions, but they really only scratched the surface". Seven quakes within about 37 miles (60 km) of these faults happened when the moon was at the farthest point in its orbit from Earth and certain parts of the moon are experiencing the greatest amount of stress from Earth's gravitational pull. Those that appear brighter indicate freshly exposed lunar rock, suggesting an event like a "moonquake", which is an quake that takes place on the moon. Examples of fresh boulder fields are found on the slopes of a fault scarp in the Vitello cluster and examples of possible bright features are associated with faults that occur near craters Gemma Frisius C and Mouchez L. Other LROC fault images show tracks from boulder falls, which would be expected if the fault slipped and the resulting quake sent boulders rolling down the cliff slope.

Of the 8 moonquakes most recently recorded, 6 of them occurred at these times. Previous research suggested that these deep moonquakes resulted from Earth's gravitational pull on the lunar interior, much as how the moon's gravitational pull on Earth's waters results in the tides, said study co-author Nicholas Schmerr, a planetary seismologist at the University of Maryland at College Park. Since rocky worlds expand when they heat up and contract as they cool, Mercury's large faults reveal that is was likely hot enough to be completely molten after its formation.

"For me, these findings emphasize that we need to go back to the moon", Schmerr said.

The moon is slowly shrinking over time, which is causing wrinkles in its crust and moonquakes, according to photos captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.



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