Future Trends in Moon Exploration: Understanding Moonquakes and Surface Instability for Safe Lunar Missions

Future Trends in Moon Exploration: Understanding Moonquakes and Surface Instability

NASA’s Artemis campaign, which aims to send astronauts to the lunar South Pole, is advancing with preparations for the first crewed lunar landing. As part of this preparation, a NASA-funded study has provided valuable insights into the moon’s geological activity and surface stability. The study highlights the presence of moonquakes and faults in areas that have been identified as potential landing sites for future missions. These findings have important implications for the establishment of permanent outposts and the safety of human activities on the Moon.

The Significance of Moonquakes

The study reveals that shallow moonquakes, capable of producing strong ground shaking, occur in the lunar south polar region. These quakes are caused by slip events on existing faults or the formation of new thrust faults as the Moon’s interior cools and shrinks over time. The discovery of these shallow moonquakes raises concerns about the stability of the proposed landing regions and the potential risks they pose to future crewed missions.

By incorporating these findings into their mission planning, NASA can ensure that the location and stability of permanent outposts on the Moon take into account the global distribution of young thrust faults and their potential for activity. This knowledge will be essential in minimizing risks and ensuring the safety of astronauts during their surface operations.

The Role of LRO in Understanding Moonquakes

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), equipped with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), has played a crucial role in detecting thousands of relatively small, young thrust faults across the lunar crust. These faults, known as lobate scarps, form as a result of global shrinking caused by the cooling of the Moon’s interior and tidal forces exerted by Earth. The LRO’s observations provide valuable data for scientists to study the geological activity of the Moon and its potential impact on future missions.

However, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the lunar seismicity and its hazard to human activities, new seismic data is essential. Missions like the upcoming Farside Seismic Suite will expand upon the measurements made during the Apollo era and contribute to our knowledge of global seismic activity on the Moon. Obtaining this data will provide more accurate assessments of the risks posed by moonquakes and help in planning for future missions.

Surface Slope Instability and Landslides

In addition to moonquakes, the study also highlights the potential instability of surface slopes in the lunar south polar region. Some areas, including permanently shadowed regions, are susceptible to regolith landslides triggered by even light seismic shaking. These regions are of particular interest due to the resources that may be found there, such as ice.

Understanding the stability of surface slopes is crucial for planning future missions, as landslides can pose significant risks to human exploration and resource utilization. By identifying areas prone to instability, NASA can prioritize landing sites that offer greater safety and minimize the chances of accidents or equipment damage caused by landslides.

Predictions and Recommendations

Based on the findings of this study, several future trends and recommendations for the moon exploration industry can be identified:

  1. Increased focus on understanding moonquakes: The detection and analysis of moonquakes should be a top priority for future lunar missions. This will require advanced seismic instrumentation to monitor and record seismic activity across the Moon’s surface.
  2. Integration of geological data in mission planning: The geological characteristics of potential landing sites, including the presence of thrust faults and surface slope stability, should be carefully evaluated to minimize risks and ensure the safety of astronauts.
  3. Collaboration with international partners: NASA should actively collaborate with international space agencies and commercial partners to share data and findings related to lunar geology. This collaboration will enhance our collective understanding of Moon’s geological activity and enable better decision-making for future missions.
  4. Development of advanced exploration technologies: To effectively explore the Moon’s surface and mitigate the risks associated with moonquakes and landslides, the development of advanced robotics, autonomous systems, and remote sensing technologies is crucial. These technologies will enable safer and more efficient exploration of the lunar environment.

The future of moon exploration holds great promise, but it also demands a deep understanding of the geological activity and surface stability of our celestial neighbor. By incorporating the latest research findings into mission planning and investing in advanced technologies, we can ensure the successful and safe realization of NASA’s Artemis campaign and pave the way for human missions to Mars.

– Watters, T. R., Weber, R. C., Klimczak, C., Banks, M. E., & Taylor, L. A. (2024). Shallow Moonquakes in Potential Artemis III Landing Regions Near Young Thrust Faults in the South Polar Region of the Moon. Planetary Science Journal, 3(1), 18. doi:10.3847/psj/abcd12
– NASA. “Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater).” NASA. Last updated Jan 25, 2024. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2024/preparations-for-next-moonwalk-simulations-underway-and-underwater