Friday, July 07, 2006

Lunar Dust Issues

The summer 2006 edition of The Bent, Tau Beta Pi's magazine, has an interesting article on Lunar dust that I thought I might comment on. (“True Grit: Unearthly Dust”, Trudy E. Bell) According to some theories, with support from lunar prospector, the lunar dust gets charged by the incoming solar wind and elevates off the surface. The Apollo astronauts apparently observed this phenomenon, which resulted a slightly blurred horizon, and reflected light just before sunrise. The Apollo astronauts observed streamers of light over the horizon. These phenomena are typical of an atmosphere, and were not expected on the moon.

This charging is uneven across the lunar surface from the sunward pole out. This charge differential between the near and far sides may lead to dust currents across the entire surface.

If these electrostatically elevated particles of dust can soften the horizon and reflect light, I wonder what implications this has for the use of the moon as a pristine observatory (as is often alluded to as a potential activity of interest for the lunar far side)? Astronomers have been interested for years in the use of the lunar far side as a potential observatory. Even though space telescopes get above the atmosphere, emissions from our planet in the form of radio waves and reflected light prevent our instruments from reaching full theoretical potential. The lunar far side blocks out all emissions from Earth and from the Sun during its long night. The dust currents may cover instruments, and the dust may also obscure the views of telescopes which require near-perfect vacuum.

Also, I was thinking this may have implications for solar panels. Dust deposition may take place over long periods of time on the panels, and need to be wiped off.

-----Separate topic
The lunar dust is highly abrasive. It’s like the sand in a bead blaster. The article touches on this topic somewhat as well. Wiping the dust off of delicate surfaces can result in scratches. It also seems to get into everything, according to the Apollo astronauts. The article suggests using an electrostatic repulsion system to clean the dust off of surfaces. Charged panels, or charging guns may make a good first line of defense to remove the dust in the most gentle manner possible.

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