Lost Apollo Tapes Show The Mystery Culprit of the Warmer Moon’s Surface in the 70s

The surface of the moon started to get warmer during the 1970s, shocking scientists, who for decades couldn’t find the cause of it. Finding lost tapes from NASA Apollo moon missions also meant finding the answer to this mystery.

Astronauts that went on Apollo 15 mission (1971) and Apollo 17 (1972) deployed probes that measured the temperature of the moon to learn how hot its core is and how it moves to the surface. However, part of the data was lost. Recently, researchers found them and published them in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

The Culprit Was Human Interference

After getting data from the probes and taping it at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, they were then archived. However, later, scientists found only a few tapes from 1971-1974. The others were believed to be lost.

In 2010, a team of planetary scientists started searching for the tapes from 1975-1977 in search for an answer to why the temperature increased after the probes were inserted. Some believed it was the presence of the astronauts and some believed that it was because the moon’s orbit changed.

The team found a set of tapes archived separately. There were 440 tapes from April-June 1975 at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland.

There were also weekly logs that recorded the temperature from 1973-1977 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. After gathering enough information, they understood what caused the moon heating.

Years of recovering and analyzing the lost data showed that one of the theories was correct: it was the Apollo missions themselves that caused the heating of the Moon. Where they landed, the soil became darker and absorbed more heat from the sun, reflecting less of the light. The temperature increased by 1-2 degrees Celsius.

Seiichi Nagihara is the lead author of the study and planetary scientist (Texas Tech University):

“It doesn’t take much disturbance to get that very subtle warming on the surface.”

According to their findings, any astronaut or instrument sent to the moon will mess with its surface.

“In the process of installing the instruments you may actually end up disturbing the surface thermal environment of the place where you want to make some measurements,” explained Nagihara, adding that future missions to the moon will have to consider new designs to lower the disturbance of its surface.

Doris’s passion for writing started to take shape in college where she was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. Even though she ended up working in IT for more than 7 years, she’s now back to what he always enjoyed doing. With a true passion for technology, Doris mostly covers tech-related topics.