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Scientists want to put fiber optic cables on the moon

Seismologists have long harnessed the Earth’s underbelly’s secrets through seismic waves using fiber optic cables, a technique now eyed for the Moon’s mysteries.

The question at the core of a recent study by Wenbo Wu and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute isn’t just theoretical — it’s a stepping stone towards unveiling the enigmatic layers of our celestial neighbor.

Lunar seismology with fiber optic cables

Wu and his team have proposed an audacious plan: deploying a fiber optic seismic network on the moon’s surface. This isn’t a mere flight of fancy.

The groundwork is laid on the Apollo missions’ legacy, which, between 1969 and 1976, installed four seismometers on the Moon.

These instruments captured thousands of seismic activities, revealing both the shallow and profound moonquakes and meteorite impacts.

However, the Apollo data left unanswered questions, notably the scarcity of moonquakes detected on the Moon’s far side and the detection of quakes deep below the surface, at depths where, on Earth, materials behave differently due to heat and pressure.

Distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) on the Moon

Enter Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), the proposed technology for this lunar endeavor. DAS doesn’t just observe seismic activity. It redefines observation.

Utilizing the minor imperfections in a long fiber optic cable laid under the moon’s regolith, DAS will transform these flaws into a dense array of seismic sensors.

A single cable, as Wu highlights, could offer thousands of individual sensors, a density unachievable with traditional methods.

This technology is adept at capturing and analyzing the seismic waves disturbed by lunar quakes, offering a granular view of the Moon’s internal machinations.

One significant hurdle in lunar seismology is the Moon’s regolith, a porous and fractured rubble blanket that scatters the initial seismic waves of a moonquake.

This scattering muddies the waters, obscuring the waves that follow, which could provide insights into the Moon’s deeper secrets.

Sifting through cosmic chatter

Wu’s team addresses this challenge head-on with array stacking, a signal processing technique that filters the noise, revealing the deep signals hidden within.

Their method’s efficacy was proven through artificial seismograms derived from Apollo mission data, successfully identifying the ScS seismic wave phase.

This shear wave, crucial for understanding the Moon’s inner structure, travels from the quake’s origin to the core and back, a journey unveiled through Wu’s innovative approach.

The implications of Wu and colleagues’ research extend beyond academic curiosity. Before any physical deployment on the Moon, the team emphasizes the necessity of robust numerical simulations to predict the data’s potential yield and applications.

Infinite potential of fiber optic cables on the moon

This preparatory step ensures that, if realized, a fiber optic seismic network on the moon could operate for years, if not decades, with proper power and maintenance provisions.

Moreover, the possibility of integrating this seismic network with other lunar initiatives, such as a proposed radio telescope on the Moon’s far side, could economize and amplify the scientific outcomes.

Wu envisions a collaborative approach to lunar exploration, where combining projects could not only reduce costs but also maximize scientific returns.

In summary, the intriguing research by Wenbo Wu and his team heralds a new era in lunar exploration, promising to unlock the mysteries of the Moon’s deep core structure through the innovative application of Distributed Acoustic Sensing technology.

By leveraging the dense array of sensors provided by a single fiber optic cable, this approach addresses the lingering questions left by the Apollo missions while planning for future seismic networks on the Moon.

With the potential to operate for decades and the capability to integrate with other lunar initiatives, this fiber seismic network stands as a testament to human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of knowledge beyond our Earthly confines.

The full study was published in the journal Seismological Research Letters.


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