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Incredible Shrinking Moon Is Revealed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
The mare basalts that fill the Taurus-Littrow valley were thrust up by contractional forces to form the Lee-Lincoln fault scarp, just west of the Apollo 17 landing site (arrow). It is the only extraterrestrial fault scarp to be explored by humans (astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt). The digital terrain model derived from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) stereo images shows the fault extending upslope into North Massif were highlands material are also thrust up. The fault cuts upslope and abruptly changes orientation and cuts along slope, forming a narrow bench. LROC images show boulders shed from North Massif that have rolled downhill and collected on the bench. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

By: Randolph E. Schmid, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP).- The moon may be shrinking.

Not to worry though, lovers and crooners, it won't be disappearing any time soon.

New research indicates cracks in the moon's crust that have formed as the interior has cooled and shrunk over the last billion years or so. That means the surface has shrunk, too, though not so you'd notice just from gazing at it.

Scientists have identified 14 landforms called lobate scarps scattered over the surface of the moon, explained Thomas R. Watters of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Watters and colleagues describe their find in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

The scarps had previously been noted at the moon's equator, but this is the first evidence in other areas, indicating they result from a global process.

The study calls the scarps "evidence of recent thrust faulting on the moon." But this is planetary science, where "recent" can mean a billion years ago.

The scarps, or cliffs, extend across some small craters, and small craters tend to be obliterated over time, Watters explained in a telephone interview. In addition, there are no large craters imposed on top of the scarps, another indication they are relatively recent, in planetary terms, he said.

"One of the really cool parts of this ... the faults are so young-looking that you can't escape the possibility that this contraction occurred recently, and could indicate that the moon is still active," Watters said.

The size of the scarps indicates a shrinkage in the size of the moon of about 100 meters (328 feet), which wouldn't be nearly enough to be noticed with the naked eye. The moon is about one-fourth the size of the Earth in diameter.

The scarps range up to 10 meters (a little over 30 feet) high and a few kilometers long, he said. By comparison, the planet Mercury has much larger scarps indicating considerably more shrinkage over time.

The moon's not going to disappear and its shrinkage won't affect the Earth in any way, Watters stressed.




Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter | Shrinking Moon | Thomas R. Watters |




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