Experts say a new geological epoch has begun on the Moon: the Lunar Anthropocene


Moon landing
Man has been influencing the lunar landscape for decades.
Rory Morrow Rory Morrow Weathered United Kingdom 4 minutes

In the decade since humans first disturbed the barren, dusty expanse of the lunar surface with the landing of the Soviet spacecraft Luna 2 in 1959, over a hundred other craft have visited our satellite.

Whether piloted or not, successful or not, all of these landings affected the Moon in one way or another. And with many other works in the works, researchers at the University of Kansas say it’s time to recognize the impact our species is having on the moon, heralding a new geological epoch.

The Lunar Anthropocene, it has been proposed, may have begun with Moon 2’s visit in the 1950s, ushering in a period in which humanity is the dominant force shaping the lunar environment.

“The idea is basically the same as the Anthropocene discussion on Earth: examining the impact humans have had on our planet,” he said. Justin Holcomb, lead author of the study Nature Geoscience and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Kansas.

“Similarly, on the Moon we claim that the lunar Anthropocene has already begun, but we want to prevent major damage or a delay in detecting it until we are able to measure a significant human-induced lunar halo, which would be too late.”

Characteristics of the Lunar Anthropocene

The study team, made up of anthropologists and geologists, says the concept of a lunar Anthropocene could help dispel the myth that the Moon is a completely static environment where human impacts are minimal.

As they describe in their research, the reality is very different. Rovers and landers significantly disturb the surface of the Moon, displacement and compaction of the surface regolith in a manner that differs significantly from natural processes such as meteorite impacts.

Space junk
As in space, trash is a problem on the moon.

In addition, debris from human missions is often left on the moon. This can include discarded spacecraft parts, bags of human waste, scientific equipment, and other miscellaneous items such as flags, golf balls, and even religious texts.

“Although the Moon has no atmosphere or magnetosphere, it has a fine exosphere composed of dust and gas, as well as ice in the permanently shadowed regions, both of which are susceptible to outgassing,” the authors add. “Future missions must consider mitigating the harmful effects on the lunar environment.”

It’s time to recognize

They stress the need to address the impacts now, as the new space race — involving both government agencies and private companies — looks set to radically change the lunar environment over the next 50 years, riding a wave of space tourism and prospects for habitation and development.

By bringing these issues to the fore, the authors hope to raise awareness, not only about the fragility of the lunar environment, but also about the possibilities of preserving the “cosmic heritage”.

Tracks and equipment, for example, provide milestones on humanity’s journey to the stars, much like the archaeological record, but currently have no legal or political protections against tampering.


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