The moon is quaking as it shrinks

The moon is quaking as it shrinks

Earth and the moon might be similar in the geological department: A new study suggests that the moon is shrinking and has active faults responsible for moonquakes on the lunar surface.

The moon is shrinking - much like the way a grape shrivels into a raisin - and that may be causing it to have "moonquakes," according to NASA. Scientists know the Moon is too cold and still to have plate tectonics, like Earth, which keeps our whole crust sliding around in giant, continent-sized pieces.

A team of researchers have now reanalyzed the data along with detailed images captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which was launched in 2009.

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

As the moon shrinks, it gets wrinkled, which then forms "thrust faults" and results in one section of the surface crust pushing up over another crust. New research suggests that these faults may still be active.

Using images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), researchers discovered cliffs in the lunar crust that had formed relatively recently, geologically speaking: They could be just 100 million years old.

"We conclude that the proximity of moonquakes to the young thrust faults together with evidence of regolith disturbance and boulder movements on and near the fault scarps strongly suggest the Moon is tectonically active", the study's abstract reads.

"Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter Scale".

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Astronauts placed the instruments on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 missions.

"For me, these findings emphasize that we need to go back to the Moon", said Nicholas Schmerr, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland and co-author of the paper.

The Apollo missions also detected about one moonquake per day resulting from space rocks hitting the lunar surface. 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. These freaky moonquakes were detected by five seismometers placed on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 missions. And as it shrinks, the moon actively produces moonquakes along the faults. This point, which is called apogee, is also the period during which Earth's gravity inflicts the most stress, or tidal pressure, on the Moon's structure.

A recent study, published in Nature Geoscience, analysed data from numerous seismometers on the Moon, placed by Apollo astronauts between 1969 and 1977.

Far from being the serene world that we may imagine when we look up at the night sky, the moon is restless.

As the moon cools and gets smaller, its crust becomes brittle and breaks up: a bit like what happens to a grape as it dries out to become a raisin.

"It's really remarkable to see how data from almost 50 years ago and from the LRO 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 LRO Project Scientist John Keller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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