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Moonquakes, faults near lunar south pole result from shrinkage, study finds

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A shrinking moon is causing moonquakes and rifts near the lunar south pole, according to data from a NASA-funded study.

The study, published Thursday in the Planetary Science Journal, took a closer look at seismic activity near and in some of the areas identified as candidate landing regions for Artemis III, the first Artemis mission planned for a moon landing with crew.

“Our modeling suggests that shallow moonquakes capable of producing strong ground shaking in the south polar region are possible as a result of slip events on existing faults or the formation of new thrust faults,” Tom Watters of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, lead author of a paper on the research, said. “The global distribution of young thrust faults, their potential for activity, and the possibility of forming new thrust faults from ongoing global contraction should be considered when planning the location and stability of permanent outposts on the Moon.”

Unlike earthquakes, moonquakes can last for hours, says a video shared on the Weather Channel website.

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Rifts on the moon

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, narrow-angle camera mosaic of the Wiechert Cluster of lobed scarps (left-pointing arrows) near the lunar south pole. A thrust fault scarp cut through a degraded crater approximately 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) in diameter (arrow pointing right). (NASA/LRO/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution)

Moonquakes are also more likely to trigger landslides than earthquakes are, according to Space.com.

“As we move closer to the crewed Artemis mission launch date, it is important to keep our astronauts, equipment and infrastructure as safe as possible,” said Nicholas Schmerr, co-author of the paper and associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland. .

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instability of surface slopes in the south polar region

The model predicts that large portions of Shackleton Crater’s interior walls are susceptible to landslides, as well as portions of the crater’s interior walls in the Nobile Rim 1 landing region. (NASA/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution)

Seismic activity with potential moon landing locations

A cloud of possible locations (magenta dots and light blue polygon) of a strong shallow moonquake using a relocation algorithm specifically suited to very sparse seismic networks is distributed near the pole. The blue boxes show the locations of the proposed landing regions for Artemis III. (NASA/LROC/ASU/Smithsonian Institution)

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In 2019, a NASA press release said the moon was shrinking as its interior cooled, becoming more than 150 feet skinnier over the past several hundred million years.

NASA scientists, the Smithsonian, Arizona State University and the University of Maryland participated in the study. It was funded by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbitor mission, launched on June 18, 2009.

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