According to a new study, the Moon is getting smaller, which could lead to increased landslides that could threaten future astronauts. Researchers from the University of Maryland have determined that the Moon has lost about 100 meters of its circumference over the past few hundred million years as its core has cooled.
This shrinkage is leading to significant surface deformations at the Moon’s South Pole in areas proposed for NASA’s Artemis III landings. Scientists warn that this shrinkage, combined with seismic activity on the Moon, could pose a danger to future human explorers near fault lines.
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The Moon is Shrinking and Could Cause Dangerous Landslides in the Future
“Young thrust faults on the Moon and their potential to form new thrust faults due to activity and ongoing global shrinkage should be considered when planning the location and resilience of permanent settlements on the Moon,” says study co-author Thomas Watters of the National Air and Space Museum.
Researchers examined the powerful lunar earthquakes recorded by Apollo seismometers 50 years ago and linked them to faults at the Moon’s South Pole. They determined that the moonquakes were caused by faults in the lunar interior and that this seismic activity could be strong enough to affect man-made structures and equipment on the lunar surface.
Danger for astronauts grows as the moon shrinks
Unlike earthquakes on Earth, moonquakes can last for hours or even an entire afternoon. This means that shallow earthquakes could severely impact future human settlements. The Moon’s surface contains loose sediment from billions of years of asteroid and comet collisions, increasing the likelihood of seismic activity and landslides.
NASA plans to fly a crewed mission to the Moon in late 2024 as part of the Artemis missions. This study provides important information for developing engineering structures that can withstand the Moon’s seismic activity, or to be prepared to protect explorers from hazardous areas.