Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/08/20/moon_shrinking/

MOON SHRINKING FAST - shock NASA discovery

LHC-spawned black hole gobbling it from within?*

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 20th August 2010 11:50 GMT

Imagery from a NASA spacecraft has revealed that the Moon has shrunk significantly in recent times: indeed, instruments placed by the Apollo astronauts are thought to have recorded the rumbling, crunching sounds of lunar shrinkage carrying on in just the last few decades.

NASA LRO image showing lobate scarp cutting across small craters. Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University/Smithsonian

A shrinking moon is a wrinkly moon. And a pockmarked one.

The key to the business is a particular type of moon cliff known among boulder-boffins as a "lobate scarp". Pictures from NASA's selenomapping satellite, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) now in orbit around the Moon, have been trawled through and large numbers of the key scarps identified.

Tellingly, many of these scarps - essentially wrinkles in the lunar crust caused as the middle of the moon shrinks and its outer cover is forced to adapt - run right through small craters, which are generally assumed to be quite new. Large craters, which boffins consider to be generally older, do not cover any of the cliffs.

What this means is that the scarps have formed recently and that the Moon is not geologically "dead" but very much still alive and shrinking.

How a lunar lobate scarp forms on the surface of a shrinking moon. Credit: Arizona State

Smaller in the middle means overlap on the outside.

Did NASA's 2009 lunar bombing mission cause the moon to START IMPLODING? Or was it the Large Hadron Collider?*

"Based on the size of the scarps, we estimate the distance between the moon's center and its surface shrank by about 300 feet," says top selenogeologist Dr Thomas Watters of the US Smithsonian Insitution.

Watters and his colleagues aren't sure, but they think it quite possible that the Moon is shrinking even now, or at any rate has done so noticeably since the Apollo landers set down on it in the 1960s and 70s. According to a NASA statement:

Seismometers emplaced by the Apollo missions have recorded moonquakes. While most can be attributed to things like meteorite strikes, the Earth's gravitational tides, and day/night temperature changes, it's remotely possible that some moonquakes might be associated with ongoing scarp formation, according to Watters.

The team plans to compare photographs of scarps by the Apollo Panoramic Cameras to new images from LRO to see if any have changed over the decades...

NASA headlines its statement on the discovery 'the Incredible Shrinking Moon', but it seems odds-on that in fact the shrinkage has mostly occurred on a timescale in the hundreds of millions or billions of years.

If by some outside chance a lot of the shrinkage has happened in recent years, though, it would seem possible that some will blame the problem on a tiny black hole created by an Earthly particle-smasher experiment such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) or perhaps the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) before it.

It's been well established in fruitcake-science circles for some time that such a black hole** might easily be captured by the Moon's gravitational field rather than that of the Earth, and thus gobble up our satellite body from within rather than our ancestral homeworld.

No need to panic, though: if the Moon is indeed being gradually sucked into a particle-accelerator-generated black hole at its core, no major catastrophe for humanity is on the cards. After a while the entire Moon will have been turned into a tiny and incredibly dense body about the size of a pea, but it will still have the same mass and will still orbit the Earth, causing tides etc as before.

Admittedly, romantic hand-in-hand evening strolls may become a trifle less satisfying for some, but on the other hand the werewolf menace will be appreciably reduced.

An alternative fruitcake seleno-implosion theory is that NASA's recent crashlanding of an impact probe in a lunar antarctic crater is somehow to blame. Many concerned citizens - apparently including a significant number of werewolves, as it happens - pleaded with the space agency not to "Bomb the Moon" at the time. Many of them wrote in to us. ®

Bootnote

*Headlines to which the answer is no.

**Assuming that it could be generated and exist stably, which would seem unlikely as otherwise the damn place would be full of mini black holes generated by cosmic-ray impacts and planets, moons, suns etc would be constantly imploding and winking out all across the sky.