International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Moonquakes and its Apollo 17 connection


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Moonquakes

Mains level : Not Much


Central Idea

  • A research utilized seismic data collected between 1976 and 1977, showcasing how the lunar lander left by the Apollo 17 astronauts might be causing seismic activity on the moon.
  • The study emphasizes that these moonquakes are not the result of natural processes but stem from vibrations generated by the lunar module descent vehicle, which was placed on the moon’s surface in 1972.

About Apollo 17 Mission

  • Apollo 17 was the final Apollo mission to the Moon, marking the sixth lunar landing.
  • It was launched by December 6, 1972, with a night launch, which was unique in the Apollo program.
  • This mission had specific scientific objectives, differentiating it from previous missions, and aimed to collect ancient highlands crustal material and investigate the possibility of recent lunar volcanic activity.
  • Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the lunar surface, went under the Apollo 11 mission in July 20, 1969.

Understanding Moonquakes

  • Similarities to Earthquakes: Moonquakes share similarities with earthquakes as both involve seismological vibrations.
  • Researchers have identified four types of moonquakes, three of which are relatively benign. Shallow moonquakes, the closest to the surface, are the most destructive.
  1. Deep Moonquakes: Occur approximately 700 kilometers below the lunar surface.
  2. Shallow Moonquakes: Take place at depths of only 20 to 30 kilometers, lasting up to 10 minutes.
  3. Vibrational Moonquakes: Typically result from meteorite impacts.
  4. Thermal Quakes: Caused by the moon’s crust expanding as it warms following subzero temperatures during the night.
  • Moonquakes occur as often as every 27 days, primarily due to temperature fluctuations between lunar day and night, totalling approximately 7,000 moonquakes in a decade.

Moonquakes vs. Earthquakes

  • Moonquakes are generally smaller in magnitude than earthquakes but are known for their extended duration.
  • Shallow moonquakes recorded by Apollo astronauts have reached up to a magnitude of 5.5.

Human Lunar Landings

  • Multiple countries have embarked on lunar missions, with India being the most recent in 2023, following the United States, Russia, and China.
  • India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission included a seismometer, which detected a moonquake, providing valuable data for future analysis.

Significance of Monitoring Moonquakes

  • Understanding moonquakes holds potential significance for future lunar missions, particularly if NASA establishes a permanent lunar outpost.
  • Seismometers, like those used on the moon, are vital for comprehending lunar geology and ensuring the safety of future lunar explorers.
  • Monitoring lunar seismic activity is crucial for designing experiments and missions aimed at unravelling the mysteries of Earth’s closest celestial neighbor.
  • The moon presents a unique opportunity for in-depth planetary study beyond Earth.

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