New research has unveiled a fascinating lunar mystery that had perplexed scientists for years: mysterious quakes occurring on the moon’s surface every morning. These quakes, it turns out, originate from the Apollo 17 lunar lander base, which has been silently expanding and vibrating as it absorbs the sun’s heat. In a collaboration between NASA and the California Institute of Technology, data on small moonquakes collected during the Apollo 17 mission in the 1970s was reanalyzed, revealing this unexpected source of lunar tremors.
The moon, unlike Earth, lacks tectonic activity, making these daily quakes all the more intriguing. The Apollo missions, conducted from 1961 to 1972, sought to gather data on the moon’s seismic activity. Astronauts placed seismic detectors on the lunar surface during Apollo missions 11 through 17, providing scientists with invaluable insights into moonquakes. These readings demonstrated that lunar quakes differ significantly from those on Earth, having nothing to do with tectonic plate movements.
Moonquakes primarily occur due to three factors: meteor impacts, gravitational forces exerted by Earth, or the moon’s surface expanding and contracting under the intense lunar daylight. Thus, it was baffling for scientists to find readings from the Apollo 17 mission that didn’t fit into any of these categories.
The challenge lay in the messy and complex data collected between October 1976 and May 1977. However, through the application of machine learning, the researchers were able to clean up the data. This process unveiled the presence of “thermal quakes” that transpire in the afternoon as the moon cools down. But the most intriguing discovery was the appearance of peculiar seismic waves each morning.
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By meticulously analyzing these morning signals, scientists determined that they originated from the lunar module descent vehicle left behind by the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972. This piece of equipment, now exposed to the moon’s extreme temperature fluctuations, was causing the unexplained quakes, resonating as temperatures ranged from a scorching +250°F to a bone-chilling -208°F.
This newfound knowledge is crucial for future lunar missions, especially as NASA plans its return to the moon after a hiatus of 50 years. Unlike previous missions, which were relatively short in duration, these upcoming missions involve extended stays on the lunar surface. Understanding how space equipment reacts to long-term exposure to lunar conditions is vital for mission success and astronaut safety. This information can be invaluable when designing and preparing technology for these ambitious lunar journeys.
Additionally, the data sheds light on the behavior of equipment left on the moon, as it essentially “bakes” under the relentless sunlight. This insight can help scientists and engineers refine the design and materials of spacecraft and equipment intended for long-term lunar operations.
Furthermore, with many future missions targeting the moon’s south pole, where sunlight exposure is minimal, the understanding of equipment durability becomes even more critical. These missions aim to explore the moon’s mysterious regions that never see the sun, and the knowledge gained from studying the lunar lander base can contribute to their success.
In summary, the discovery of the lunar lander base as the source of morning quakes on the moon offers a fascinating glimpse into the challenges and opportunities of future lunar exploration. It underscores the importance of thorough preparation and understanding of lunar conditions as we embark on new and ambitious missions to our celestial neighbor.