Published: Tue, May 14, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Moon Is 'Shrinking Like a Grape' and Releasing Moonquakes, Study Finds

Moon Is 'Shrinking Like a Grape' and Releasing Moonquakes, Study Finds

The Moon is getting smaller and is prone to moonquakes, according to new Nasa research.

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.

Our Moon is slowly shrinking, creating wrinkles on the surface and causing moonquakes, which were spotted by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. "Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter scale".

NASA said the Moon's scarps resemble "small stair-step shaped cliffs", which extend for up to a few miles at a times.

Astronauts have placed seismometers on the moon over a series of past missions.

The lunar quakes ranged in intensity from 2 to five on the Richter scale of natural disaster intensity.

Dr Watters said: "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 technically active". At least eight of the quakes occurred due to activity along the faults.

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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.

"It's quite likely that the faults are still active today", said Nicholas Schmerr, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland who co-authored the study.

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.

NASA had previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after first putting a "Gateway" station into orbit around the moon by 2024.

By combining information gathered by LRO and data from the various Apollo missions, researchers were able to "advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon's interior processes should go", according to LRO project scientist John Keller. If they were very old, from a much earlier period in the Moon's history, then they would have filled in over the years with debris from crater impacts and other surface disruptions. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) has captured over 3,500 images of the fault scarps on the lunar surface, which show boulders at the bottom of bright patches on the slopes of fault scarps or landslides.

The findings suggested that these "cliffs", or thrust faults, had formed as a result of tectonic activity related to the moon contracting in size as it cooled. Unlike the flexible skin on a grape, however, the moon's crust is brittle, causing it to break as the interior shrinks.

"It is truly incredible that the datasets collected by the astronauts so many years ago are still yielding new scientific findings about our moon", Schmerr said.

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