The moon is a very dusty place to visit, a lot more dustier than scientists ever imagined and this raises some concern for future treks. University of Colorado-Boulder scientists have discovered new evidence of a dust cloud orbiting the moon and they’ve published their new findings on Wednesday.
This cloud of dust is a result of small, but extremely fast, comet dust particles colliding into the moon, according to Quartz News on June 18. There’s nothing new about space dust, which is also found orbiting the Earth. The planet Earth has an atmosphere, which keeps the dust particles away from its surface. The moon does not have the barrier of an atmosphere, so the dust has free reign.
The scientists used data collected from NASA’s spacecraft called Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). This craft was launched back in September of 2013 and in its 80-day orbit around the moon LADEE recorded 140,000 impacts from dust on the moon’s surface. The findings were published in Nature International Weekly Journal of Science this week.
The signal that detected the particles moved at such a fast pace, that scientist were able to determine the dust was coming from passing comets. This could cause a problem for future space travel to the moon. So far journeys to the moon have been of short duration, for just a couple of days at best. The dust particles didn’t play havoc with the surfaces of the craft and its mechanical and technological workings because of the short duration of exposure.
It is longer exposure to the dust particles that raise concerns for the scientists as these fast moving particles act like sandblasting over time to the different exposed surfaces of a spacecraft. The “dust might impact astronauts who wish to make a trip up to the moon for a longer stay,” reports Quartz.
According to the University of Colorado Boulder’s new study, the “moon is engulfed in a permanent, but lopsided dust cloud that increases in density when annual events like the Geminids spew shooting stars.” The first hint of this dust cloud came from a mission in the 1960s when a bright glow during the lunar sunsets was captured by NASA’s cameras on board an unmanned spacecraft.
Jump ahead more than a half century and the technology today not only picks up the tiny particles, but can measure the speed they are traveling. The speed of these particles was addressed by CU-Boulder physics Professor Mihaly Horanyi.
Horanyi said, “Many of the cometary dust particles impacting the lunar surface are traveling at thousands of miles per hour in a retrograde, or clockwise orbit around the sun — the opposite orbital direction of the solar system’s planets. If a long duration trip to the moon is in the future plans of any of the world’s space agencies, this research is something they might want to keep in mind.