New Data Suggests That Apollo Missions Caused The Moon’s Temperature To Rise

An Apollo 11 astronaut's footprint in the lunar soil, photographed by a 70 mm lunar surface camera during the Apollo 11 lunar surface extravehicular activity. Neil Armstrong steped into history July 20, 1969 by leaving the first human footprint on the surface of the moon. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission is celebrated July 20, 1999.
NASA / Newsmakers

In what appears to be a case of a decades-old mystery finally being explained, new information from a long-term study has indicated that NASA astronauts are, in a way, at blame for the significant change in surface temperature on the moon since their initial expedition there.

As reported by CTV News, the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, has indicated that astronauts involved in the Apollo 15 and 17 moon missions greatly disturbed the moondust in their expedition area, which, in turn, revealed a much darker dust that resides below the surface, known to us as regolith.

Since being brought up to surface-level by astronaut’s interrupting the balance of the area, the darker regolith went on to attract a substantially greater amount of the sun’s rays, thus heating up the area more exuberantly than normal surface materials do, as suggested by the study.

For those unfamiliar with human spacefaring history, NASA had sent two different missions to the moon in the early 70s to track heat levels on the body of rock that orbits us. The first mission, Apollo 15, took place in 1971, while the second, Apollo 17, took place a year later in 1972. With these missions, scientists back on Earth were able to study the temperature levels on the moon from the years 1972-1977. However, the information itself was only archived up until its 1974 sessions.

These significant lunar probes went on to provide valuable information to scientists, exhibiting that the moon’s temperature did unexpectedly rise by between 1.8 and 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit in 1974. Despite this, without the other three years of data, researchers were “stuck in a corner” when it came to fully decipher the cause for such a substantial temperature increase.

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Decades later, the missing information has finally been uncovered and showed that temperature increases did very much continue through and past 1977, and gave scientists somewhat more of concrete evidence to explain the changes.

With this new knowledge, scientists took to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, which is a high-tech camera as well as a mapping tool, and utilized it to dive deep into the area in which the Apollo 15 and 17 probes took place. Through this, researchers concluded that the area had been greatly disturbed by human interference and subsequently caused that area to be darker than the surrounding parts of the moon.

The study states directly that “We suggest that, as a result of the astronauts’ activities, solar heat intake by the regolith increased slightly on average, and that resulted in the observed warming.”

The use of rovers, electronic equipment, landing modules, as well as human footsteps all contributed to the regolith uncovering that raised lunar temperatures so drastically.