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A Dangerous Place
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Lunar Meteor Strikes May Obstruct Moon Colonization

By James Donahue

With all the talk of someday colonizing the Moon . . . and with nations like China, Japan, the United States and the European Union all planning to send astronauts back to that desolate place . . . few appear to be considering the effect a constant bombardment of meteor showers might have on a permanent Moon base.

The American Apollo Space adventure to the Moon from 1969 to 1975 brought astronauts to the Moon for brief visits and safely back home again. Now with problems of global warming, an overpopulated Earth, and a growing shortage of natural resources, there is renewed interest in space exploration. This time there is talk of colonizing the Moon and then going on to Mars . . . we suspect as a wild last-ditch effort to find a place in our solar system to relocate if things get too unbearable on Earth.

There was great excitement at NASA late in 2009 when three lunar probes found evidence that water exists at the polar caps on the Moon. This was a key component necessary, researchers said, before serious consideration of colonization could begin.

In all of their excitement, we wonder if NASA engineers and other workers have noticed all of the blasted pock marks that scar the surface of that Moon. Similar impact markings are found on Mars, Jupiter and the moons circling the other planets in our solar system. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these holes were created by large objects from space that collided with the moons and planets. We have a few of them on Earth, but not many.

The question is, how often to meteors collide with the other bodies in our solar system? That such events are so rare on Earth has led us to believe they may also be extremely rare on the Moon, on Mars and other planets. But that may not be the case.

As recently as November 7, 2005, NASA scientists observed a meteor strike on the Moon. It happened at the same time Earth was experiencing a brilliant display of meteor showers that continued from late October to early November.

The meteors were coming at the Moon during that same period, but unlike the Earth, where most meteors burn a fiery death before they can strike the ground, the Moon has no atmosphere. Consequently the surface of the Moon may have been peppered by meteorites that slammed into the ground and exploded.

The meteor explosion that was captured on film on November 7 occurred near the edge of Mare Imbrium. Researchers have calculated that it was a piece of rock measuring about 12-centimeters in width, traveling 27 kilometers a second when it struck. The blast was equal to the explosive force of about 70 kg of TNT.

NASA researchers say that meteor strikes on the Moon are not easy to spot because there is no fiery entrance through the atmosphere, like we can see almost any clear night on Earth. Even the Hubble Space Telescope is not sensitive enough to catch the smaller Moon collisions.

The burning question in all of this is: How frequently is the Moon hit by flying rocks and meteors from space, and how dangerous a place would it be for a permanent moon colony?

It is true that the International Space Station also is circling the outer parameters of the Earth, in an area where it also could be struck a deadly and unexpected blow by a meteor raining down out of nowhere. In the 12 years the station has been in orbit, and under construction, it has had to be moved several times to avoid a possible collision with man-made space debris. And the astronauts within have had to deal with radiation from extreme solar flares. But we do not recall a single threat from a meteor strike even though the Earth is visited by meteor showers at least once each year.

Erecting a similar facility on the Moon could be relatively safe if water and the technology to convert it into breathable oxygen and hydrogen fuel can be utilized. But the danger of a strike will always be present. We will have to leave it up to the experts to decide if such a project will be worth the risk.