Monday, 27 May, 2019

Quakes show that moon, gradually shrinking, is tectonically active

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Sandra Phillips | 14 May, 2019, 11:42

As the moon's interior cools, it shrinks, which causes its hard surface to crack and form fault lines, according to research sponsored by NASA. The innermost planet Mercury boasts numerous thrust faults.

NASA say these scarps are like a "stair-step in the lunar landscape formed when the near-surface crust is pushed together, breaks, and is thrust upward along a fault as the Moon contracts". The Apollo 11 seismometer operated only for three weeks, but the four remaining recorded 28 shallow moonquakes - the type expected to be produced by these faults - from 1969 to 1977. "The results provide important clues to the moon's recent geologic and tectonic evolution". Seven quakes within about 37 miles (60 km) of these faults happened when the moon was at the farthest point in its orbit from Earth and certain parts of the moon are experiencing the greatest amount of stress from Earth's gravitational pull.

NASA just got the evidence that confirms "these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today as the Moon continues to gradually cool and shrink", said senior scientist Thomas Watters, with the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, according to the release.

The Apollo astronauts first began measuring seismic activity on the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, finding the vast majority were occurred deep in the body's interior while a smaller number were on its surface. 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. 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.

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"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 in a statement, study author and assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland. 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 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter first helped NASA learn that the moon was shrinking in 2010, the agency reported at the time.

"For me, these findings emphasize that we need to go back to the moon", Schmerr said.

The Apollo missions also detected about one moonquake per day resulting from space rocks hitting the lunar surface. "With a larger network of modern seismometers, we could make huge strides in our understanding of the moon's geology", added Schmerr. The study was published May 13 in Nature Geoscience. "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". The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations. The college's 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $175 million.

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