Scientists say the Moon has entered a new era

(CNN) — For thousands of years the Moon has inspired humans from afar, but the bright beacon in Earth’s night sky more than 200,000 miles away remained out of reach. This all changed on September 13, 1959, when the former Soviet Union’s unmanned spacecraft, Luna 2, landed on the surface of the Moon.

According to NASA, when the Luna 2 probe landed on the Moon between the lunar regions of Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis, a crater was formed.

That pivotal moment of shaking up the moon’s dust marked the beginning of humanity’s efforts to explore the Moon, and some scientists now suggest it was also the beginning of a new geological era (or time period in history). , called the “Lunar Anthropocene”. In a commentary article published Dec. 8 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“This idea is similar to the discussion about the Anthropocene on Earth: figuring out how much humans have impacted our planet,” said the paper’s lead author, Justin Holcomb, a postdoctoral researcher at the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas.

“There is general consensus that the Anthropocene on Earth began at some point in the past, either hundreds of thousands of years ago or in the 1950s,” Holcomb said. “Similarly, on the Moon, we believe the lunar Anthropocene has already begun, but we want to avoid widespread damage or delaying its detection until we can measure significant lunar halos caused by human activities , which may be too late.”

Scientists have been trying to declare a definitive Anthropocene on Earth for years and recently presented new evidence from a site in Canada that some researchers believe marks a game-changer in our planet’s history. This is the beginning of the chapter.

The idea of ​​the Lunar Anthropocene comes at a time when civilian space agencies and commercial entities are showing renewed interest in returning to the Moon or, for some, landing on the Moon for the first time.

And the paper’s authors argue that the Moon’s environment, already shaped by humans during the beginning of the lunar Anthropocene, will change more dramatically as exploration increases.

humanity’s lunar footprint

Outdoor enthusiasts and visitors to national parks are probably familiar with the concept of “leave no trace”: respecting and preserving the natural environment, leaving things as they were found, and disposing of waste properly.

However, the Moon is full of traces of exploration.

According to the document, since Luna 2’s arrival, more than a hundred spacecraft have crashed and made soft landings on the natural satellite and “humans have caused surface disturbances at at least 58 additional locations on the lunar surface. ” Landing on the Moon is very difficult, as evidenced by the many accidents that have left their mark and created new craters.

Humanity has left its mark on the Moon in many ways, including impact craters left by spacecraft, footprints of lunar rovers, astronaut boot prints, scientific experiments, and even family photos brought back by astronauts. Are included. NASA/GSFC/ASU

The Cold War space race initiated a series of lunar missions, and most have since been unmanned. NASA’s Apollo missions during the 1960s were the first missions to send humans around the Moon, before astronauts first landed safely on the Moon’s surface with Apollo 11 in 1969. Ultimately, 12 NASA astronauts walked on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. ,

According to the newspaper, with the arrival of humans many objects were left behind, including scientific instruments for experiments, spacecraft components, flags, photographs and even golf balls, bags of human feces and religious texts.

The Moon appears unchanged from Earth. After all, it has no protective atmosphere or magnetosphere like our life-sustaining world. Micrometeoroids regularly hit the surface because the Moon has no way to protect itself from space rocks.

The researchers said declaring the Lunar Anthropocene could make it clear that the Moon is changing in ways that it would not naturally occur due to human exploration.

Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan piloted a lunar rover on the Moon’s surface during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The rover is still on the Moon after more than 50 years. Credit: NASA/JSC

“Cultural processes are beginning to dominate the natural background of geological processes on the Moon,” Holcomb said. “These processes include the movement of sediment, which we call “regolith” on the Moon. Typically, these processes include meteorite impacts and large-scale motion events. However, when we look at rovers, landers, and human movement When considering impacts, they significantly disturb the regolith.

The authors write in their paper that the Moon also has features such as a fragile exosphere composed of dust, gas and ice within permanently shadowed regions that are vulnerable and could be disturbed by continued exploration. “Future missions should consider minimizing harmful impacts on the lunar atmosphere.”

lunar exploration mania

A new space race is gathering pace as many countries set their sights on carrying out robotic and manned missions to explore the Moon’s south pole and other unknown and difficult-to-reach lunar regions.

India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission made a historic successful landing on the Moon in 2023 after the crash of Russian Luna 25 spacecraft and Japanese company iSpace’s HAKUTO-R lander. This year, several missions are headed to the celestial body, including Japan’s “Moon Sniper” lander, which is expected to attempt to land on the moon on Jan. 19.

Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine spacecraft was launched this week amid objections from the Navajo Nation that the vehicle was carrying human remains that customers had paid to send to the lunar surface, sparking a new debate over who controls the moon. It broke out. But a propulsion problem discovered just hours after liftoff means Peregrine will not be able to attempt a lunar landing and its fate is currently uncertain.

NASA’s Artemis program intends to return humans to the lunar surface in 2026. The agency’s ambitions include establishing a sustained human presence on the Moon, including habitat supported by resources such as water ice at the Moon’s south pole. China’s space ambitions also include reaching the surface of the Moon.

“In the context of the new space race, the lunar landscape will be completely different in 50 years,” Holcomb said. “Many countries will be present, which will create many challenges. Our goal is to dispel the myth of lunar static and emphasize the importance of our impact not only in the past but also in the present and future. “Our goal is to start a discussion about our impact on the lunar surface before it’s too late.”

archaeological record of the moon

Humanity’s footprints on the Moon have come to be viewed as artifacts that essentially require some form of protection. Researchers have long expressed a desire to maintain Apollo landing sites and catalog the items left behind to preserve “space heritage”. But this type of protection is difficult to achieve because no single country or entity “owns” the Moon.

Holcomb said, “A recurring theme in our work is the importance of lunar materials and footprints as valuable resources on the Moon, similar to an archaeological record that we are committed to preserving.” “The Lunar Anthropocene concept aims to increase awareness and reflection about our impact on the surface of the Moon, as well as our impact on the preservation of historical artifacts.”

An astronaut’s shoe left a footprint on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. NASA/JSC

The Apollo 11 Moon landing marked the first time humans stepped into another world. Researchers said the footprints left by astronauts in moon dust are perhaps most symbolic of humanity’s ongoing journey, which will also include planets like Mars in the future.

“As archaeologists, we see the footprints on the Moon as an extension of humanity’s journey out of Africa, a fundamental milestone in the survival of our species,” Holcomb said. “These marks are linked with the overall narrative of development. It is within this framework that we seek to engage the interests of not only planetary scientists but also archaeologists and anthropologists who do not typically participate in debates about planetary science.

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