Abandoned Apollo 17 Lunar Module Is Causing Tremors On the Moon


A spacecraft left behind by U.S. astronauts on the lunar surface could be causing small tremors known as moonquakes, according to a new study. CNN reports: Researchers revealed the previously unknown form of seismic activity on the moon for the first time through an analysis of Apollo-era data using modern algorithms. Massive temperature swings that occur on the moon can cause human-made structures to expand and contract in a way that produces these vibrations, the report suggests. The lunar surface is an extreme environment, oscillating between minus 208 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 133 degrees Celsius) in the dark and 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) in direct sun, according to a news release about the study.

In fact, the entire surface of the moon expands and contracts in the cold and heat, noted the study published September 5 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. Yet scientists were able to use a form of artificial intelligence to gain such an intimate understanding of the Apollo-era data that they could pinpoint gentle tremors that emitted from an Apollo 17 lunar lander module sitting a few hundred yards away from instruments recording the moonquakes, according to a synopsis of the study, which was led by Francesco Civilini, a recent California Institute of Technology postdoctoral researcher and a research space scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. (NASA provided funding for the study.)

The analysis offers new insights into how the moon responds to its surroundings and what can affect its seismic activities. The rumbles were not dangerous and likely would be imperceptible to humans standing on the moon’s surface.