Apollo missions and the lunar dust

A new study shows how the moon dust accumulates much faster than it is believed. It could be a test for the presence of dust charging currents traveling over its surface. The research has analyzed some of the data collected during the Apollo missions that were thought lost forever and that have been found only recently.

apollo 12


The streets of scientific research often follow difficult paths, sometimes unpredictable. But some stories have a really surreal touch. In the sixties, NASA had designed a series of experiments to study the lunar surface. The surveys were then conducted during the Apollo missions, but after a few years the data were lost. Today, forty years later, the physicist who had designed the experiments, now in his eighties, found a copy of the data. He analyzed them, and the results that he had obtained could help to shed light on one of the mysteries that still surround the Moon, a seemingly rather trivial question: How accumulate dust on the moon?

On the Moon dust is extremely fine and very sharp: in the absence of atmosphere, wind and rain, the fragments are not eroded and retain their shape sharp and rough. The lunar dust has created several problems with overheating scientific instruments of the Apollo missions. Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist, analyzing obstacles and problems of a new and longer manned mission to the Moon, wrote in his book “Return to the Moon”, “The invasive nature of lunar dust raises engineering problems and health for astronauts , most of the radiation . ”

Forty years ago, after the first moon landing, NASA launched a series of experiments to study the lunar surface. One of these concerned precisely the speed with which accumulates the dust. The detectors of lunar dust (Lunar Dust Detector) traveled with the Apollo missions 12, 14 and 15, before that, in September 1977, the NASA research to cut the budget problems. And experiments of the Lunar Dust Detector were  lost since 1977 , although in the meantime the detectors had worked properly , the data collected were lost : the Lunar Dust Detector was nowhere in the archives of NASA.



Only in 2006, Brian O’Brien, the physicist who developed the experiment during the Apollo missions in the sixties, has informed the NASA of having a backup copy of the data that were believed lost forever. Professor O’Brien has decided to take up that data and analyze it. Today, more than 40 years after their creation, we have the first results of those experiments.

According to what was found by O’Brien and his team, the lunar dust accumulates in an incredibly slow manner compared to any terrestrial standards. We speak of a layer about one millimeter thick every 1000 years.

Beyond its danger and strategies with which we can manage it, the biggest mystery around the lunar dust remains, however, precisely that of its formation, its accumulation and its dynamics.

The lunar dust should in fact form primarily from the impact of asteroids and other celestial bodies crashing to the ground pulverized rocks and debris containing iron and silicon.

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