Researchers Studying Quakes in Space

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 12:26

Researchers believe that Earth is not the only planet that quakes occasionally, tremendous and prolonged quakes are happening in moon as well.

While most earthquakes are over in under a minute, moonquakes can last for an afternoon. In the 1970s, at least one 5.5-magnitude moonquake shook the lunar surface at full force for more than 10 minutes straight, then tapered off gradually over the course of several hours, Atlantic reports.

“The moon was ringing like a bell,” Clive Neal, a geological sciences professor at Notre Dame, told NASA about the Apollo-era lunar seismic data he and his colleagues examined.

A strong moonquake would be enough to devastate a hypothetical human settlement—breaching a moon base’s seal and causing a catastrophic loss of oxygen—which is part of why scientists became interested in studying the phenomenon in the first place.

Beginning in 1972, astronauts left seismic sensors on the moon, where they gathered data for about five years until the network was shut down amid budgetary concerns in 1977. Still, the sensors transmitted evidence of more than 12,000 moonquakes in the time they were running.

Scientists have identified four classifications of moonquakes: deep moonquakes, thermal moonquakes, meteroid impacts, and shallow moonquakes.

Deep moonquakes are the most commonly occurring—scientists counted about 7,000 of them in under a decade, according to an article Neal wrote for Geotimes.

Thermal quakes happen in response to the temperature changing from night to day and day to night. And meteroid impacts are pretty much what they sound like—seismic events triggered by the creation of a crater.

The really big lunar quakes, though, are the shallow ones. Scientists still don't know exactly what causes these rarer moonquakes, but seven of the 28 recorded up to 1977 exceeded magnitude 5. A quake of that size on the moon lasts longer than it would on Earth, where water helps tamp down a quake.

Scientists also have their attention on Mars, where they hope to find definitive proof of marsquakes in the coming years. The Mars mission InSight, scheduled to launch in March, will carry a seismometer to the Red Planet, a NASA spokesman said.

“We do not know what causes the largest moonquakes nor where they are precisely located,” Neal said. “We know nothing about Mars, so the InSight mission is critical.”

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