The moon has reached a 'new epoch', a lunar Anthropocene, scientists say

 (Danny Lawson / PA)
(Danny Lawson / PA)

The moon has entered a new epoch called the lunar Anthropocene, according to researchers.

It was suggested in a Nature Geoscience comment piece – called The case for a lunar anthropocene – that people may have been discussing the Anthropocene as far back as 1959, the time the Soviet Luna 2 impacted east of mare on the moon, producing the first human-made crater, but that discourse around it needs to increase.

The article said "we should consider human modifications as part of a lunar Anthropocene, especially as our next exploratory phase of the moon and additional Solar System bodies accelerates".

But what is the Anthropocene?

Scientists say it's entirely possible that we could have already entered the 'age of humans' known as the Lunar Anthrophocene.

The Anthropocene appeared to be used, for a while at least, exclusively in relation to Earth. It was the name given to the epoch in which humans began having a significant impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. The definition is still being agreed upon, but most researchers suggest Earth entered this period in 1950.

Now, with the effects of spacecraft landings, lunar rovers, and other human activity having becoming increasingly visible, Kansas University's Justin Allen Holcomb and his colleagues have said the moon has entered its own Anthropocene, a lunar one.

Dr Holcomb said: "As we enter the next space race, one characterised by private companies offering access via space tourism and plans for industrial mining, we argue that it is time to discuss whether Earth’s moon has also entered its own ‘age of humans’ – a Lunar Anthropocene...

"We argue that designating a Lunar Anthropocene will facilitate scientific discussion and study as lunar exploration ramps up. The increase in lunar surface exploration will also further contribute to what we identify as the archaeological record of the moon."

How can humans affect the moon?

While the moon does not have an atmosphere or magnetosphere, it has a delicate exosphere (the outermost layer, a thin, tenuous atmosphere) made up of dust, gas, and ice. The study has warned that humans have gone from minimal agents of disturbance to important drivers of planetary surface and system change.

It suggested that five countries and several private companies set to visit the lunar surface within the next couple of years may only exacerbate these issues and said that future missions must consider mitigating deleterious effects on lunar environments.

The more concrete effects of Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, however, shows other material and objects on the moon. This includes craters created by human activity, artefacts including discarded and abandoned spacecraft components, bags of human excreta from missions, scientific equipment – and even objects such as religious texts, photographs, and golf balls.