Monday, 27 May, 2019

Research: Shrinking moon may be generating moonquakes

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Elijah Vega | 14 May, 2019, 11:42

Using the revised location estimates from the new algorithm, the team found that eight of the 28 shallow quakes were within 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of faults visible in lunar images.

Mars and the Moon do not have tectonic plates, and yet, they still experience quakes. Additionally, "Establishing a new network of seismometers on the lunar surface should be a priority for human exploration of the Moon, both to learn more about the Moon's interior and to determine how much of a hazard moonquakes present", said co-author Renee Weber, a planetary seismologist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

As a result, researchers were able to "tentatively attribute" the recorded quakes to the faults.

Our Moon is getting cooler, causing it to shrink. Over time, the lunar surface darkens due to weathering and radiation, so bright spots are areas where recent activity has exposed areas on the lunar surface.

Astronauts placed five different seismometers during the subsequent Apollo missions from Apollo 11 to Apollo 16.

A new analysis suggests that the moon may still be shrinking today and actively producing moonquakes along these thrust faults. This is where additional tidal stress from Earth's gravity causes a peak in the total stress, making slip-events along these faults more likely. They developed an algorithm that enabled them to get a more accurate location for the epicenters of each quake.

This in turn causes its surface to wrinkle, similar to a grape that shrivels into a raisin.

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Six out of the eight tectonically active moonquakes occurred when the Moon was at or close to its apogee, the point where it's most distant from Earth and where the diurnal and recession stresses create the most compression near the tidal axis. Mercury has enormous thrust faults - up to about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) long and over a mile (3 kilometers) high - that are significantly larger relative to its size than those on the Moon, indicating it shrank much more than the Moon.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of the Taurus-Littrow valley, which features a scarp cutting across it.

The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes almost two months after Vice President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years NASA's timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (May 13) in the journal Nature Geoscience. "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", said Nicholas Schmerr, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland in a recently issued statement.

"For me, these findings emphasise that we need to go back to the moon".

The Apollo missions also detected about one moonquake per day resulting from space rocks hitting the lunar surface. "It is also a testament to how much can be gained by human spaceflight to the surface of other worlds and underlines the awesome potential for future missions back to the moon and, hopefully someday, Mars".

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