Will the Earth fry future moon astronauts?

Will the Earth fry future moon astronauts?

Summary: Researchers working for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission have discovered that the Earth's magnetic tail could be harmful to future astronauts. The moon stays inside Earth's 'magnetotail' for six days every month -- during full moon. This can have consequences ranging from lunar 'dust storms' to strong electrostatic discharges, according to one researcher quoted by NASA in 'The Moon and the Magnetotail.' So far, this is pure speculation: no man has been on the moon when the magnetotail hits. As added the same scientist, 'Apollo astronauts never landed on a full moon and they never experienced the magnetotail.' But read more...

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TOPICS: Nasa / Space
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Researchers working for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission have discovered that the Earth's magnetic tail could be harmful to future astronauts. The moon stays inside Earth's 'magnetotail' for six days every month -- during full moon. This can have consequences ranging from lunar 'dust storms' to strong electrostatic discharges, according to one researcher quoted by NASA in 'The Moon and the Magnetotail.' So far, this is pure speculation: no man has been on the moon when the magnetotail hits. As added the same scientist, 'Apollo astronauts never landed on a full moon and they never experienced the magnetotail.' But read more...

Moon inside Earth magnetotail

As the illustration above shows, "the moon spends about six days each month inside Earth's magnetic tail, or 'magnetotail.'" Credit: NASA/Steele Hill) Here is a link to a larger version of this image.

And here is a link to images of Earth's 'magnetospheric substorms' which could affect future astronauts on the moon. From this page, you'll be able to see a short animation (49 seconds) in various formats. "This animation shows a magnetospheric substorm, during which the reconnection causes energy to be rapidly released along the field lines causing the auroras to brighten." (Credit: Walt Feimer, for NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Conceptual Image Lab)

This research work has been led by Tim Stubbs, a University of Maryland scientist working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. For more information, take a look at this University of Maryland, Baltimore County news release, "UMBC Scientist Joins NASA Mission" (April 15, 2008).

Another researcher involved in this project is Jasper Halekas of the University of California, Berkeley, who works in the Space Physics Research Group. Here is a link to his publications. Please note that the link to his home page is not working: it redirects you to his research group.

Now, let's see what could happen monthly on the moon according to NASA. "Imagine what it feels like to be a sock pulled crackling from a dryer. Astronauts on the moon during a magnetotail crossing might be able to tell you. Walking across the dusty charged-up lunar terrain, the astronauts themselves would gather a load of excess charge. Touching another astronaut, a doorknob, a piece of sensitive electronics -- any of these simple actions could produce an unwelcome discharge. 'Proper grounding is strongly recommended,' says Stubbs."

The NASA's writer continues. "The ground, meanwhile, might leap into the sky. There’s growing evidence that fine particles of moondust might actually float, ejected from the lunar surface by electrostatic repulsion. This could create a temporary nighttime atmosphere of dust ready to blacken spacesuits, clog machinery, scratch faceplates (moondust is very abrasive) and generally make life difficult for astronauts."

Here is the conclusion of the NASA's article. "What happens then? Next-generation astronauts are going to find out. NASA is returning to the moon in the decades ahead and plans to establish an outpost for long-term lunar exploration. It turns out they’ll be exploring the magnetotail, too."

Finally, if you want to read more about what might happen to future astronauts on the Moon, you can read "Strange Things Happen at Full Moon" (SPACE.com, April 18, 2008).

Sources: Tony Phillips, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, April 16, 2008; and various websites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.

Topic: Nasa / Space

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9 comments
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  • Land on the back side.

    I'm guessing that if there were a problem, it would be on the
    side of the moon facing the planet. So, maybe land on the
    back side.
    Prime Detailer
    • Nope, it's worse on the "Dark Side" of the moon

      Here's an excerpt from the article that was linked to in the story.

      "On the moon's dayside this effect is counteracted somewhat by sunlight: Photons knock electrons back off the surface, lessening the negative charge. But on the night side, electrons accumulate and the charge can climb to thousands of volts."

      So, they'd actually be safer on the Sunlit side.
      gmclean
      • Re: Nope, it's worse on the "Dark Side" of the moon

        There is no dark side of the Moon really... as a matter of fact it's all dark
        DSchrute
    • Re: Land on the back side.

      That's what she said
      DSchrute
      • Re: Land on the back side.

        LOL - Good one!

        The correct term for the side of the moon we never see should be "the far side" (no apologies to Gary Larsen, he borrowed the term for the name of his comic strip.)
        NGENeer
  • RE: Will the Earth fry future moon astronauts?

    Sounds like a potential source of energy.
    shawn_dude
  • Does this cause a problem on earth orbiting satellites?

    And does this cause a problem on the space station?

    If not, then it's unlikely that it will cause a significant problem on the moon.
    Dr_Zinj
    • ISS and satellites are inside...

      The ISS and satellites (out to geostationary) are inside of the magnetosphere and do not cross the magnetopause (the 'bowshock' in the diagram), except when the solar wind pushes the magnetopause back into geostationary orbit, a rare occurrence. While there are radiation belts these fly in, they do not have the energetic particles you find along the magnetic field lines. Polar orbiting satellites do cross into these lines (which cause the auroras), but are only in them a very short time compared to the long exposure the moon has on the six days mentioned in the article.

      Bottom line - the moon's exposure is a completely different environment than we see on near-earth satellites.
      jdknco@...
      • ISS and satellites are inside...

        Well put!

        Another thing that satellites wouldn't experience is the possible threat of statically charged, abrasive, dust clinging to sensors, moving parts & everthing else.

        Actually, long before any NASA astronauts have to worry about this effect, there is another group of folks who will have to "worry" about this potential hazard - private organizations who are competing to launch and land a rover or bot on the moon. It's "a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth."

        If you are interested the site is called "Google Lunar X PRIZE" - Here's a link:

        http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/

        BTW - I've posted a link to this ZDNet article on the Lunar X Prize forums. If this turns out to be a valid issue those competing teams better know about it!
        NGENeer