Dust Storms on the Moon

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dust storms on the moonThe solar winds blow, shaping earth’s magnetic field. What happens on the moon when it encounters the magnetotail? Can dust storms on the moon be affected by earth’s magnetic field?

Apples and Oranges

The earth’s magnetic field receives constant bombardment from the sun’s solar wind. This forces back the flux lines into a long extended tail on the side of earth opposite the sun. This extended stream is referred to as a magnetotail.

The Moon’s Time of the Month

Most of the month the moon is not under the influence of earth’s magnetotail, but is exposed to the solar wind. Yet, part of each month the moon does cross into earth’s magnetotail. This occurs over a period of about six days, three days before the moon enters its full phase until about six days later. The moon probably experiences strange effects from this, since the magnetotail harbors perhaps ten times as many plasma particles as the solar wind carries. Among these is an abundance of electrons.

The Dark Side – Dust Storms on the Moon

The electrons charge the moon’s surface. This is especially so on the dark side, as there is no light to dampen electron excitations there. The electrostatic charge could cause dust to be stirred up to produce clouds.

Due to the electrical charge gradient, any dust clouds would likely be drawn in the direction of the moon’s bright side. This could cause difficulties for astronauts and astronomical equipment if any were present. This would be particularly so at the interface of the dark and bright sides.

The certainty of these events has not yet been determined, since past mission astronauts were not on the moon during such run-ins with the magnetotail.

The moon has a magnetic field of its own, though not nearly so strong as earth’s. Its magnetic field is a surface one, which could interact in a complex variety of ways with the charged particles.

Laboratory in Space

In view of all these facts, K.K. Khurana and others, including Jasper Halekas, have recommended NASA, during its Artemis mission scheduled for 2011, completely exploit the “field and plasma measurement capabilities of Artemis” that other future space missions will lack” in studying the physics of the moon’s interior and exterior. Artemis stands for “Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun.”

Note: You might also enjoy Characteristics of a High Mass Star


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