A 2010 analysis of imagery from NASA'sLunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found that the moon shriveled like a raisin as its interior cooled, leaving behind thousands of cliffs called thrust faults on the moon's surface. Their analysis provided more accurate epicenter location data for 28 moonquakes recorded from 1969 to 1977. Our solar system's innermost planet Mercury, too, boasts numerous thrust faults.
These moonquakes likely happen because the moon is quivering as it shrinks, researchers added.
Moonquakes can have origins other than tectonic activity in the lunar crust.
Using the revised location estimates from the new algorithm, the team found that eight of the 28 shallow quakes were within 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of faults visible in lunar images. "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, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland in a recently issued statement.
Astronauts have placed seismometers on the moon over a series of past missions. A 5.5 to 6.0 magnitude quake can cause "slight damage to buildings and other structures". This is close enough to tentatively attribute the quakes to the faults, since modeling by the team shows that this is the distance over which strong shaking is expected to occur, given the size of these fault scarps.
Some of the quakes also happened during a point in the moon's orbit when it was farthest from Earth, indicating that the tidal stress of Earth's gravity could have contributed to stress on the moon's crust.
For the first time, scientists have connected moon-quake data to the changing lunar landscape, showing that our satellite is tectonically active, according to the study published Monday in Nature Geoscience.
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. Unlike the flexible skin of a grape when it shrinks into a raisin, the moon's brittle crust breaks. This rules out the possibility of asteroid impacts or rumblings from the moon's interior. This breakage results in thrust faults, where one section of crust is pushed up over an adjacent section. For the past 10 years, the LRO has been taking pictures of the moon's surface, and scientists would like to compare photos of specific fault regions from different periods to search for recent moonquake activity evidence.
More than 3,500 of the faults have been identified by the LRO. A team of researchers have now reanalyzed the data along with detailed images captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which was launched in 2009. Those that appear brighter indicate freshly exposed lunar rock, suggesting an event like a "moonquake", which is an natural disaster that takes place on the moon. With almost a decade of LRO imagery already available and more on the way in the coming years, the team would like to compare pictures of specific fault regions from different times to look for fresh evidence of recent moonquakes.
"This additional investment, I want to be clear, is a downpayment on NASA's efforts to land humans on the Moon by 2024", he said. The agency will establish sustainable missions by 2028, then we'll take what we learn on the Moon, and go to Mars.
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