The Moon gets impacted with meteorites more frequently than previously believed, something that could difficult its colonization, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

The new research discovered that more than two hundred crated were formed in the past seven years, thanks to meteorites crashing against the lunar soil, known as regolith. These impacts can dislodge pieces of the surface and send them flying, causing further damage on the satellite’s surface.

Apollo 10 Hasselblad camera image cropped in Gimp to show Keeler crater and surrounding terrain. The original image is in the public domain it is a work of the U.S. Government. Image Credit: Apollo Flight Journal

This occurs because the Moon has no atmosphere on its own, which leaves its surface defenseless. Earth’s atmosphere is the shield that causes any incoming meteorites to burn completely or partially, minimizing damage.

The researchers in the study compared twenty-four thousand pictures of the Moon surface, analyzing the “before and after” of about six percent of the satellite’s surface area.

Looking at single images, many of the new craters are extremely difficult to distinguish from previously existing features on the lunar surface, so detailed comparisons with pictures from previous years are necessary to be able to notice the small, subtle changes.

Previous estimates had said that the Moon’s surface would get completely changed at a rate of once every ten million years. However, this recent research suggests a much more frequent rate of once every 81,000 years or about a hundred times faster.

Future lunar missions might be affected

These new discoveries could help date the various craters in the surface of Earth’s natural satellite, but it also brings concerns for future lunar missions. Scientists especially believe that the idea of long term habitation of the Moon need to take into account not just meteorite impact, but the fact that even distant meteorite hits can send pieces of the Moon flying incredibly long distances.

The research discovered that an eighteen-meter crater, formed on March 17, 2013, helped create more than two hundred secondary impacts, the majority of which were more than thirty kilometers away from the original collision.

“This is also important if we are going to put a long term habitat on the moon, a lunar base or something like that. The odds of having a direct hit from a meteor or asteroidal material would be relatively small. However, if one occurred 30, 40 kilometers away, you might be getting a lot of these secondaries that are going to be coming over, hitting your lunar base and also messing up the regolith around you,” said Emerson Speyerer, lead author of the study and a planetary scientist from the Arizona State University.

Source: Christian Science Monitor