Why the moon is shrinking — and how it could affect future landings

New NASA research has found that the moon is actually shrinking from seismic activity.
New research from NASA has identified a "seismic hazard" on the moon that could throw a wrench into future, highly anticipated human landing missions.

Lunacy!

New research from NASA has identified a “seismic hazard” on the moon that could throw a wrench into future, highly anticipated human landing missions.

The moon’s hot core has been gradually shrinking as it cools — think George Costanza after a dip in the pool — which causes the moon’s surface to develop creases that can lead to tremors and landslides.

These tremors, called moonquakes, are being observed in the moon’s south polar area — a region that NASA Administrator Bill Nelson described as being “pockmarked with deep craters” — that’s also quite far from landing sites used by the Apollo missions of 50-plus years ago.

“It lessens the amount of area that you can actually land on and utilize,” Nelson added of the craters that run over 2.6 miles deep.

New NASA research has found that the moon is actually shrinking, leading to seismic activity. ryuichi niisaka – stock.adobe.com
New NASA research has found that the moon is actually shrinking, leading to seismic activity. ryuichi niisaka – stock.adobe.com

That locale is also much more rugged than the Sea of Tranquility that Neil Armstrong took a giant leap onto.

The southern zone was, after all, formed some 3.6 billion years ago by an “object violently colliding with the lunar surface,” per NASA, which uses Apollo-laid seismic meters to read activity there and in other areas.

In August, the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 successfully landed near the moon’s south pole.

But now, there is concern that these moonquakes will disrupt prospective landing zones for the mission Artemis III, which will historically return astronauts to the lunar surface for a week.

Researchers have identified areas of the moon where quakes may create a risk for landings. NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution
Researchers have identified areas of the moon where quakes may create a risk for landings. NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution

Moonquakes are “capable of producing strong ground shaking,” notes Tom Watters of the Smithsonian Institution.

Watters, who led the NASA research published last week in the Planetary Science Journal, added that this phenomenon could be the result of events occurring on existing lunar fault lines or potentially the creation of new “thrust” ones.

He says that “the global distribution of young thrust faults, their potential to be active, and the potential to form new thrust faults” needs to be kept in mind when planning the development of permanent outposts on the moon — likely a key element to NASA’s missions for deep space exploration.

New fault lines might be forming on the moon, according to NASA research.
New fault lines might be forming on the moon, according to NASA research.

On top of all that, NASA says Artemis III is already “one of the most complex undertakings of engineering and human ingenuity in the history of deep space exploration.”

Now, research co-author Renee Weber of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is calling for the gathering of “new seismic data” all over the moon “to better understand the seismic hazard posed to future human activities.”