, Volume 4, Issue 3-4, pp 373-382

Moonquakes and lunar tectonism

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With the succesful installation of a geophysical station at Hadley Rille, on July 31, 1971, on the Apollo 15 mission, and the continued operation of stations 12 and 14 approximately 1100 km SW, the Apollo program for the first time achieved a network of seismic stations on the lunar surface. A network of at least three stations is essential for the location of natural events on the Moon. Thus, the establishment of this network was one of the most important milestones in the geophysical exploration of the Moon.

The major discoveries that have resulted to date from the analysis of seismic data from this network can be summarized as follows:

  1. Lunar seismic signals differ greatly from typical terrestrial seismic signals. It now appears that this can be explained almost entirely by the presence of a thin dry, heterogeneous layer which blankets the Moon to a probable depth of few km with a maximum possible depth of about 20 km. Seismic waves are highly scattered in this zone. Seismic wave propagation within the lunar interior, below the scattering zone, is highly efficient. As a result, it is probable that meteoroid impact signals are being received from the entire lunar surface.

  2. The Moon possesses a crust and a mantle, at least in the region of the Apollo 12 and 14 stations. The thickness of the crust is between 55 and 70 km and may consist of two layers. The contrast in elastic properties of the rocks which comprise these major structural units is at least as great as that which exists between the crust and mantle of the earth. (See Toksőzet al., p. 490, for further discussion of seismic evidence of a lunar crust.)

  3. Natural lunar events detected by the Apollo seismic network are moonquakes and meteoroid impacts. The average rate of release of seismic energy from moonquakes is far below that of the Earth. Although present data do not permit a completely unambiguous interpretation, the best solution obtainable places the most active moonquake focus at a depth of 800 km; slightly deeper than any known earthquake. These moonquakes occur in monthly cycles; triggered by lunar tides. There are at least 10 zones within which the repeating moonquakes originate.

  4. In addition to the repeating moonquakes, moonquake ‘swarms’ have been discovered. During periods of swarm activity, events may occur as frequently as one event every two hours over intervals lasting several days. The source of these swarms is unknown at present. The occurrence of moonquake swarms also appears to be related to lunar tides; although, it is too soon to be certain of this point.

These findings have been discussed in eight previous papers (Lathamet al., 1969, 1970, 1971) The instrument has been described by Lathamet al. (1969) and Sutton and Latham (1964). The locations of the seismic stations are shown in Figure 1.

Lamant-Doherty Geological Observatory Contribution No. 1769.