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Massive Moonquakes Jeopardize Plans for Moon Settlement, Scientists Say

Over recent geologic time, as the moon's interior cooled and contracted the entire moon underwent about 100 meters of shrinking, accompanied by moonquakes
Over recent geologic time, as the moon’s interior cooled and contracted the entire moon underwent about 100 meters of shrinking, accompanied by moonquakes. Credit: NASA

Plans for future moon settlements may be jeopardised as scientists claim the natural satellite is shrinking and crumbling, giving way to ‘moonquakes’.

Scientists at the University of Maryland in The US have conducted a study wherein they have found that the moon is gradually shrinking, a phenomenon which has led to a growing number of landslides that could threaten future astronauts.

The moon has lost around 100 meters in circumference over the last few hundred million years as its core has cooled from exceedingly high temperatures.

The researchers said this may seem like a gradual process, but the shrinking has caused significant surface warping in sections of the orb’s south pole, including areas which NASA plans to utilise for its crewed Artemis III landings.

Moon’s Shrinking Linked to Seismic Moonquakes

Because it has been discovered that the moon’s reducing size is accompanied by earthquake-like activity, the team of scientists warned that areas near fault zones may pose risks to future human explorers.

Study co-author Thomas Watters from the National Air and Space Museum, said, “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.”

In the new study, scientists linked faults found in the moon’s southern polar region to one of the most powerful moonquakes recorded by Apollo seismometers more than 50 years ago.

The team found that some sections of the moon’s south pole were especially likely to experience landslides from seismic shaking.

According to NASA, moonquakes are caused by faults in the moon’s interior, and can potentially be violent enough to damage man-made structures and equipment on the orb’s shrinking surface.

However, where earthquakes typically last just a few seconds, moonquakes can last for hours, potentially even half of a day. Which means these shallow quakes could destroy future human settlements.

This is largely because the moon’s surface is covered in loose sediment from billions of years of asteroid and comet collisions.

Speaking to The Independent, Nicholas Schmerr, another author of the study, said, “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.”

He added, “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 hopes to launch its first crewed flight to the moon in more than five decades as part of the Artemis missions in late 2024.

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