The Dark Side of a Shrinking Moon and NASA’s Mission Risks

Researchers studying the moon have highlighted the importance of considering potential risks for future lunar missions. A recent study has uncovered that the moon has been slowly shrinking over the past few hundred million years, resulting in small but consistent reductions in its circumference. It’s worth noting that these changes are too subtle to have any impact on earthly events like eclipses and tidal cycles.

Nicholas Schmerr, a co-author of the study from the University of Maryland, reassures that the minute change in the moon’s radius should not significantly alter tidal cycles or affect the visual aspects of lunar phases. 

However, the study suggests that the shrinking moon is triggering moonquakes, a phenomenon that could pose risks for upcoming lunar exploration endeavors.

The shrinking moon has induced surface warping, particularly in the south polar region, an area earmarked by NASA for potential crewed Artemis III landings, as highlighted in a University of Maryland news release.

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Moonquakes Raise Concerns for Future Missions

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Researchers studying the moon have highlighted the importance of considering potential risks for future lunar missions.

The study, recently published in the Planetary Science journal, focuses on the moon’s hot inner core gradually cooling, resulting in fault lines and cracks on its surface. Tom Watters, a scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution and leader of the study, emphasizes the need for cautious planning for long-term lunar outposts due to the observed lunar activity.

Examining the lunar South Pole, a potential landing site for future Artemis missions, the study identifies heightened seismic activity in the region. Notably, the most powerful recorded moonquake, detected during the Apollo missions, occurred near the South Pole.

Watters points out the potential risks of moonquakes on the moon’s surface, such as landslides, which could impact future landing sites. The lower gravitational pull on the moon could amplify the intensity and duration of moonquakes compared to earthquakes on Earth, making them potentially more impactful.

While immediate Artemis missions may not face imminent threats from moonquakes, Watters suggests that long-term lunar outposts could be significantly affected. The study underscores the importance of considering lunar seismic activity in the planning and establishment of sustainable lunar bases.

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