Scientists Unveil Moon Entering a New Era

Scientists believe the Moon is entering a new era, amidst the increasing exploration of Earth’s natural satellite. Here’s what scientists have to say about this issue.

Moon exploration has been ongoing since the space race during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Subsequently, many countries have sent spacecraft, and even humans, to explore this natural satellite of Earth.

On September 13, 1959, the former Soviet spacecraft, Luna 2, landed on the surface of the Moon. This spacecraft created a crater when it landed on the Moon between the Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis regions.

A paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience on December 8 stated that this significant moment marked the beginning of human efforts to explore the Moon, and some scientists now argue that it also marks the beginning of a new geological era called the lunar Anthropocene.

Justin Holcomb, the lead author of the paper, who is also a postdoctoral researcher at the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas, said his ideas are almost similar to the discussions about the Anthropocene on Earth, exploring the extent of human impact on our planet.

“The consensus on Earth is that the Anthropocene began at some point in the past, whether hundreds of thousands of years ago or in the 1950s,” said Holcomb.

“Similarly, on the Moon, we argue that the lunar Anthropocene has begun, but we want to prevent major damage or delays in its recognition until we can measure the significant moonlight halo caused by human activity, which will take some time,” he continued.

The authors of this paper argue that the lunar environment, which has been shaped by humans during the early lunar Anthropocene, will change more drastically with increasing exploration.

Human Traces on the Moon

The Moon is full of traces of exploration. Since the landing of Luna 2, more than a hundred spacecraft have crashed and landed on the Moon, and “humans have caused surface damage at least 58 lunar surface locations,” according to the paper.

Landing on the lunar surface is extremely difficult, as evidenced by the numerous crashes that have left marks and created new craters.

According to the journal, the arrival of humans on the Moon has left many objects, such as scientific equipment for experiments, spacecraft components, flags, photos, religious texts, and even a bag of human waste.

On the other hand, micrometeorites regularly strike the surface because the Moon has no way to protect itself from space rocks.

The researchers argue that declaring the lunar Anthropocene can clarify that the Moon is changing in an unnatural way due to human exploration.

“Cultural processes are beginning to surpass the natural geological processes on the Moon,” said Holcomb. “These processes involve moving sediments, which we call ‘regolith’ on the Moon.

Usually, these processes include meteoroid impacts and mass movement events, among others. However, when we consider the impact of rovers, landers, and human activity, they significantly disturb the regolith.”

The Moon also has features like a delicate exosphere consisting of dust and gas, as well as ice in permanently shadowed areas that are vulnerable and can be disrupted by further exploration, the authors wrote in their paper.

“Future missions must consider mitigating damaging effects on the lunar environment.”

Moon Exploration Fever

The new space race is heating up as several countries target robotic missions and manned missions to explore the South Pole and other unexplored and difficult-to-reach areas of the Moon.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully made a historic landing on the Moon last year after Russia’s Luna 25 spacecraft and Japan’s HAKUTO-R spacecraft from Ispace crashed.

This year, there have been several missions to the Moon. The successful one, although it landed in a ‘hopping’ position, was Japan’s “Moon Sniper” lander last month.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Artemis program intends to return humans to the lunar surface by 2026.

The ambition of this US space agency includes establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with habitats supported by resources such as water ice at the Moon’s South Pole.

“In the context of the new space race, the lunar landscape will be very different in the next 50 years,” said Holcomb.

“Various countries will be present, leading to various challenges. Our goal is to dispel the myth of a static moon and emphasize the importance of our impact, not only in the past but also in the present and future. We aim to initiate a discussion about our impact on the lunar surface before it’s too late.”

Moon Archaeological Notes

Human traces on the Moon have been viewed as artifacts that essentially require some form of protection.

Researchers have long expressed a desire to preserve the Apollo landing sites and create a catalog of left-behind objects to preserve the “space heritage.”

However, such preservation is difficult to achieve because no single country or entity “owns” the Moon.

“A recurring theme in our work is the importance of lunar material and footprints on the Moon as valuable resources, similar to archaeological records that we are committed to preserving,” said Holcomb.

“The concept of the lunar Anthropocene aims to increase awareness and contemplation of our impact on the lunar surface, as well as our influence on the preservation of historical artifacts.”

The Apollo 11 landing on the Moon marked the first time humans set foot on another world.

The footprints left on the Moon by astronauts may be symbols of the ongoing human journey, which is likely to include planets like Mars in the future, the researchers said.

“As archaeologists, we see the footprints on the Moon as an extension of the human journey out of Africa, a significant milestone in our species’ existence,” said Holcomb.

“These footprints are tied to a comprehensive evolutionary narrative. In this framework, we strive to attract the interest of not only planetary scientists but also archaeologists and anthropologists who are not typically involved in discussions about planetary science.”