A new study suggests that the presence of NASA astronauts on the surface of the moon in the 1970s led to a slight increase in its subsurface temperatures. The temperature rise has puzzled scientists for decades.
For the study, researchers sifted through the data offered by two Apollo missions’ tapes. In the early 1970s, NASA launched a so-called heat flow experiment designed to measure the lunar temperatures.
The Apollo 15 (1971) and Apollo 17 (1972) missions were part of the experiment and beamed the data back to Earth over a period of six years. NASA scientists found that the lunar temperatures rose during that time period.
Because of a tight budget, NASA ditched the experiment and archived the tapes. Many historians have believed for years that the tapes were “lost.”
The missing tapes were back in the spotlight recently, when a research team recovered them from the National Archives.
A Mystery Moon Temperature Rise
Lead author Walter Kiefer, who’s a researcher at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and his fellow researchers have studied the tapes and found that lunar subsurface temperature rose mysteriously from 1.6 C to 3.5 C during the NASA experiment.
The temperature rise was detected in only some areas at a depth of up to three meters.
If one looks at a picture of the moon, one can see light-colored surfaces and darker surfaces. The lighter-colored areas are made of anorthosite while the darker ones are made of basalt. The latter rock is commonly found on our planet.
The latest research revealed that while NASA astronauts walked on the moon or their rovers hit the lunar surface, anorthosite layers were greatly disturbed. As a result, the basalt layers underneath the disturbed layers emerged.
Scientists explained that the darker rocks absorb more heat from the sun, a phenomenon which likely upped the moon’s temperatures.
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