TechMoon's Anthropocene era. How human activity since 1959 transformed the lunar landscape

Moon's Anthropocene era. How human activity since 1959 transformed the lunar landscape

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8:54 AM EST, December 13, 2023

The first human intrusion on the moon's surface occurred on September 13, 1959. On this day, the Soviet space probe Luna 2, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, struck the moon's surface in the Mare Serenitatis region. Since then, over a hundred different types of missions have been dispatched to the moon, both manned and unmanned. Although not all of them were successful, each one had consequences for the lunar environment.

Defining the lunar Anthropocene

The changes happening on the moon's surface due to human activity are noticeable enough that scientists from the University of Kansas in the United States propose defining a new geological age - the lunar Anthropocene. According to them, this era dates back to 64 years ago, when the Luna 2 spacecraft first made contact with the moon. Their research on this topic has been published in "Nature Geoscience".

Dr. Justin Holcomb, the lead author of the study and an archaeologist at the Kansas Geological Survey, a research unit at the University of Kansas, remarked, "The discussion about a new era on the moon resembles that of the Anthropocene on Earth – it requires researching the human impact on the natural environment".

The Anthropocene on Earth

Many experts believe the Anthropocene on Earth began with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the subsequent increase in carbon and methane emissions. Others argue that this era didn't start until 1945, with the first atomic bomb detonation. Some even propose that the Earth's Anthropocene began in the mid-20th century when the human population increased, and the human presence on our planet became increasingly noticeable.

Dr. Holcomb emphasizes that the Anthropocene on the moon is already underway. "We aim to prevent or at least delay severe damage to our satellite. I hope the concept of the lunar Anthropocene will debunk the myth that humanity has a minimal impact on the moon," the scientist noted. He argues that the human influence on the moon has become so substantial that it now dominates the natural geological processes taking place there.

"One of the most noticeable human impacts is the displacement of regolith – a layer of weathered, loose rock on the moon's surface. Usually, meteoroid impacts and mass movements cause this, but rovers, landers, and human presence greatly affect this disturbance. With the pace of the space race, the lunar landscape is predicted to change considerably within the next 50 years. We aim to highlight the significance of the current and future human impact on the lunar environment and spark discussion on this matter," stressed the researcher.

The "Leave No Trace" principle

The "Leave No Trace" principle, popular among earth ecologists and tourists, stresses not leaving any evidence of one's presence in the natural environment. However, this principle is currently not applied to the moon. The waste left on the moon after space missions includes spacecraft parts, bags of feces, scientific equipment, and various objects such as flags, golf balls, photos, and religious texts.

"Even though the moon lacks an atmosphere or magnetosphere, it is encircled by a fragile exosphere comprised of dust, gas, and ice located in perpetually shaded regions. These elements are susceptible to, among other things, the exhaust gases from spacecraft. Future missions must plan to mitigate harmful effects on the lunar environment," states the article. The authors highlight that places on the moon of historical and anthropological value currently lack legal protection.

"Part of our work involves recognizing the existing traces on the moon as valuable resources, akin to archaeological records on Earth, which we must preserve," said the archaeologist. He believes this "space heritage," including footprints, vehicles, and objects left on the moon, should be preserved and cataloged. "As archaeologists, we treat traces left on the moon as evidence of humanity's progression from its cradle in Africa, representing a landmark in the history of our species and evolution."

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