Published: Wed, May 15, 2019
Science | By

NASA launches rah-rah trailer for 2024 moon mission: 'We are going'

NASA launches rah-rah trailer for 2024 moon mission: 'We are going'

NASA's renewed focus on returning people to the moon now has a name, and it's one that looks both back to the past and ahead to the future as the agency makes its most vocal boast yet that the next person to set foot on the lunar surface will be an American woman. Scientists know the Moon is too cold and still to have plate tectonics, like Earth, which keeps our whole crust sliding around in giant, continent-sized pieces.

To humans, the moon appears solid and unchanging, but new evidence reveals that it is actually shrinking over time, causing lunar wrinkles and moonquakes. However, the surface of the moon is brittle, so as it shrinks, it creates cliff-like "thrust faults" or fault scarps with sections pushed up against others.

These fault scarps resemble small stair-step shaped cliffs when seen from the lunar surface, typically tens of yards (meters) high and extending for a few miles (several kilometers).

Pence's announcement took many inside NASA by surprise. Impact craters, another common lunar feature, can help geologists better date these "wrinkle ridges" and their importance in the moon's cooling and shrinking activity.

But unlike other rocky bodies, the Moon's core is only 20 per cent of its structure, not 50 per cent.

The 2024 mission, called Artemis, after the Greek goddess of the moon and twin sister of Apollo, will be the first mission to the moon in almost five decades.

To check their findings, researchers ran 10,000 simulations to see if this amount of quakes near faults can be coincidental, however, they found the chances are less than 4 per cent.

Of the 28 quakes, eight were within 30 kilometres of scarps.


Neither the moonquakes nor the moon shrinking is risky to us on Earth, said Steigerwald. The study of Apollo seismic data and analysis of more than 12,000 of the orbiter's photos were published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"It's really remarkable to see how data from almost 50 years ago and from the [orbiter] mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon's interior processes should go", said John Keller in a statement, study author and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter scale".

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. We conclude that the proximity of moonquakes to the young thrust faults together with evidence of regolith disturbance and boulder movements on and near the fault scarps strongly suggest the Moon is tectonically active.

However, while valuable, the Apollo data could not pinpoint the epicentres of the quakes to understand how they're caused. Normally, weathering darkens material on the moon's surface in time.

"We're going to the moon because we want to get to Mars with humans", Bridenstine said Tuesday at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, DC.

During the Apollo missions, astronauts placed seismometers on the surface to measure seismic activity.

Lunar science: $90 million to enable increased robotic exploration of the moon's polar regions in advance of a human mission.

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