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Shrinking moon may cause moonquakes

15 May 2019

Unlike the flexible skin on a grape, the Moon's surface crust is brittle, so it breaks as the Moon shrinks, forming "thrust faults" where one section of crust is pushed up over a neighboring part.

NASA scientists and astronauts say that moonquakes - some with magnitudes as high as five on the Richter scale - may be caused by the moon shrinking as its interior cools. These fault scarps appeared to be young - less than 50 million years old.

A new analysis of Apollo-era quakes on the Moon reveal that our satellite is probably still tectonically active. The algorithm gave a better estimate of moonquake locations.

Between 1969 and 1972, the seismometers placed on the Moon by Apollo astronauts recorded thousands of quakes.

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Mr Bridenstine has previously said President Trump's desire to put humans back on the moon by the year 2024 would provide an opportunity to test technology and capabilities before carrying out a mission to land on Mars by 2033.

Of the eight moonquakes that occurred close to visible thrust faults in the LRO data, six took place when the Moon was at its most distant orbital point relative to the Earth. But the exact nature of several shallow quakes originating near the surface has flummoxed scientists for years. They found it is less than 4 percent. Researchers re-analyzed seismic data they had from the moon to compare with the images gathered by the orbiter.

"It's really remarkable to see how data from almost 50 years ago and from the [orbiter] mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon's interior processes should go", said John Keller in a statement, study author and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The researchers compared the epicenters of the said quakes with the Moon's faults images captured by NASA's orbiter. Some of these images show landslides or boulders at the bottom of relatively bright patches on the slopes of fault scarps or nearby terrain.

Primarily, the budget amendment seeks to accelerate work on the lander, which will be needed to carry humans down to the surface of the Moon from the small Gateway to be built in lunar orbit.

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"This additional investment is a down payment on NASA's effort to land humans on the moon by 2024", Bridenstine said in a call with reporters Monday evening.

According to the new study, 28 quakes in that period emanated from the crust, within 200 km of the surface.

The Moon isn't the only world in our solar system experiencing some shrinkage with age.

Much as a grape wrinkles as it dries to become a raisin, the Moon also wrinkles as its interior cools and shrinks. "The moon's formation generated a lot of heat, and it has been gradually cooling off ever since". Scientists trying to reconstruct the Moon's origin wonder whether the same happened to the Moon, or if instead it was only partially molten, perhaps with a magma ocean over a more slowly heating deep interior.

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After Trump's announcement Monday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted: "This is the boost @NASA needs to move forward with putting the next man and the first woman on the Moon". Just five years from now, NASA will send one woman and one man back to the moon, landing on the lunar body's south pole.

Shrinking moon may cause moonquakes