May 29, 2024

We all are familiar with the role we play in the demolition and destruction of our home, our planet, our world. Well, now let’s make that two worlds.

‘ Practice makes man perfect ’ — 200,000 years on this beautiful planet has made us pretty damn efficient in creating havoc on the climate of worlds. As a matter of fact, the simple act of visiting the moon, astronauts have caused the moon’s temperature to rise and that too by a very significant amount. It turns out that in the span of 3 years (1969-72), 12 fearless people have walked on the moon and in fact Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have actually only spent 3 hours walking on the moon. So if we take an estimate of 3 hours per person and if my math is correct (spoiler alert – it always is) 12 people would have taken a total of 36 hours walking on the moon. That’s not even 2 complete days (1.5 days to be precise), and we accomplished to introduce global warming on the moon — Lunar Warming.

I guess we can now say that Ford Prefect was wrong by describing Earth as – Mostly harmless.

Governmental agencies like CIA and NASA especially are known for “accidentally losing” or “accidentally erasing” or “misplacing” important pieces of evidence and videotapes. Not joking, we, right now, could actually be watching Neil and Buzz galloping and jumping around the surface of the moon in HD if the original Apollo 11 tapes hadn’t been lost and accidentally erased. So it is not surprising that in and after the 1970s the study of the moon’s temperature was abandoned conveniently due to lack of funding and only some of the data tapes were archived, while the rest of hundreds of reels of tape were assumed to be lost.

At that time, NASA was perplexed by their research data. The data revealed that post astronaut visits, the moon’s temperature had risen by a couple of degrees. Recently, a group of Texas researchers who were researching these peculiar temperature fluctuations made it their mission to find the missing tapes. It took them 8 years to find and restore 400 reels of tape which helped in investigating the mystery of the warming moon.

The tapes revealed that about 3 meters below the moon’s surface, temperatures had risen from 1.6 degree Celsius to 3.5 degree Celsius over a period of 6 years. The temperature had risen by almost 2 degrees (1.9 degrees to be accurate) and that’s a lot. The research team had a logical and a very intriguing hypothesis. They hypothesized that the footprints on the moon were the cause behind this unusual increase in temperature.

The moon is mainly made up of 2 types of rock: Anorthosite, the bright white rock covering most of the moon and Basalt, a darker rock that makes up the lunar maria (the large dark areas formed by ancient volcanic eruptions). These rocks are the reason for the moon’s greyscale appearance.  The team amalgamated their 40-year-old data with modern and advanced imagery from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) currently orbiting the moon to zoom in on the disturbances in the lunar soil, known as regolith, that our visits left there exposing the dark soil underneath. The black basalt surfaces on the moon absorb more sun’s heat than the white anorthosite surfaces because black is a better absorber and white is a good reflector. Every homo sapiens activity, from Apollo 11’s “small and first step for man” to the liftoff of the final Apollo mission spacecraft, has disturbed the surface regolith to expose the darker soil beneath. All of the activities: walking, planting probes, taking samples to change the structure of the regolith and leave behind a darker path. The tracks of the astronauts can be seen as they are darker. Dr. Seiichi Nagihara, who led the Texas research team, told the American Geophysical Union, “In the process of installing the instruments (like temperature probes) you may actually end up disturbing the surface thermal environment of the place where you want to make some measurements. That kind of consideration certainly goes into the designing of the next generation of instruments that will be someday deployed on the Moon.”

There is no need to worry, for now, researchers believe that the temperatures have already reached equilibrium and temperature changes these big can be catastrophic on earth but it is not a big deal on the moon. That doesn’t mean we continue to do so and turn a blind eye to these things.

This should be our wake up call. This discovery shows us how easily our mere presence can affect extraterrestrial worlds. Due to the fact that we humans, especially one very motivated and innovative human – Elon Musk, have set eyes on Mars and are determined to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, these effects observed on the moon is like a wake up call that reminds us to take extreme care and precaution with not-earth planets.

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