Our shrinking moon could cause moonquakes close to the lunar landing site of Artemis astronauts, scientists warn

NASA plans to land humans on the lunar south pole by September 2026 to commence with its Artemis crewed exploration of the moon. scientists and engineers planning this great mission are considering numerous lunar parameters as they plot the sites for a crewed lunar landing, including checks for moonquakes.

The reason for making a lot of effort in plotting crewed landing sites on the moon is because the shape of the landing terrains could either make or break a mission. If a spacecraft successfully navigates across space and arrives at the lunar surface, then it should make a soft landing.

Geologists are now suggesting that Artemis moon planners should also consider moonquakes and lunar landslides as they plot the landing sites for astronauts. Scientists have been studying the moon’s south pole region for a while now. They have discovered fault lines whose slips led to a massive moonquake nearly 50 years ago.

During Apollo missions, the crew took seismometers to the lunar surface. On March 13, 1973, a powerful moonquake was captured by seismometers coming from the general direction of the lunar south pole. After several decades, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flew past the South Pole region and spotted the webwork of fault lines.

Scientists created new models that connected those fault lines with the moonquake. Scientists revealed that moonquakes are similar to earthquakes. Both of them could occur by shifting faults. However, as for the moonquakes, they are generally caused by creases that form on the lunar surface as it shrinks.

Why the Moon is shrinking and its impact on moonquakes

The epicenter of one of the strongest moonquakes recorded by the Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment was located in the lunar south polar region. (Image credit: NASA/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution)

The moon is shrinking because the lunar interior has cooled extremely well over the last few hundred million years. Researchers reveal that as the moon continues to shrink, it will help us to picture how those creases are created in the first place. In addition, the lunar surface is less tightly packed than the surface of our home planet.

Hence, the moon’s surface consists of loose particles that can be thrown up and cause an impact. This results in moonquakes that are more likely to create more landslides than earthquakes.

Researchers suggest that steady plans need to be put in place as humans plan to return to the moon again.

“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,” said Nicholas Schmerr, a geologist and one of the researchers, in a statement. “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.”

The researchers published the study on Jan. 25 in The Planetary Science Journal.

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