It’s common knowledge that mankind has caused the dramatic warming of the Earth — nobody besides conspiracy nuts and politicians looking for contributions from energy lobbyists actually bothers to dispute this anymore — but it looks like humans managed to extend our world-warming habits to the Moon as well. In a new research paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, scientists explain how the Apollo landings actually led to the Moon getting slightly hotter.
No, the astronauts that visited the Moon didn’t spew chemicals or anything of that sort, but they did travel across the lunar surface both by foot and by vehicle, and that alone was enough to make the moon warmer… but only after they left.
Much of the Moon is covered in a layer of bright dust called the regolith. Because of its bleached color, the dust actually provides some reflective properties when it comes to sunlight, and when the Apollo missions disturbed that dust, revealing the darker lunar soil hiding below, it made the Moon ever-so-slightly darker overall. The darker soil absorbs more light, and that means more heat.
“Recently acquired images of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera over the two landing sites show that the regolith on the paths of the astronauts turned darker, lowering the albedo,” the researchers explain. “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 slight warming effect that resulted from mankind’s visits won’t really change much in terms of how scientists study the Moon, but it’s an extremely interesting observation of how a simple visit from humans can begin to alter a world before we even realize it.
With many space programs around the world focusing on Mars and the inevitability of a manned mission to the Red Planet, it’s probably worth considering how we might negatively affect Mars simply by exploring it. Taking proactive steps to prevent unwanted changes to the Martian surface is something that needs to be planned well in advance of a landing, so now’s the time.