Skip navigation

Category Archives: sciPOP

If humans are ever to successfully colonize the moon, it’s obvious that such a monumental task will be plagued by a myriad of technological, physiological, and psychological challenges.  Obstacles such as radiation exposure, lack of air+food+water, and space madness are a few lunar-specific problems worthy of mentioning.  However, there is one rather clandestine problem that will also face the future pioneers of the moon — one which could turn out to be the lunar problem with proves to be the most difficult of all.

The problem is dust. Moondust.

Upon first consideration, the fascinating particularities of moondust might seem like innocuous curiosities.  Because of the moon’s lack of a magnetic field, the side of the moon which faces the sun is relentlessly bombarded by electrically charged particles emanating from the sun, also know as the solar wind.  As a result of this bombardment, the dust particles on the lunar surface acquire an electric charge of their own.  Interesting, the electric charge that the moondust exhibits depends on whether it is day or night.  During the lunar day, the moon’s surface that faces the sun gains a positive charge.  Conversely, at night, on the surface facing away from the sun, the dust become negatively charged.  To make things even more complicated, the electrostatics, or the ratio of positive to negative charges, of the moondust also changes when the moon passes in, and then out, of the Earth’s ionosphere once per revolution, or once per month.  Basically, lunar dust is so jazzed up all the time with electric gradients, that some scientist speculate that dust particles may actually occasionally hover off of the ground or spontaneously jump across the moon’s surface.  Of course, lunar astronauts can also tell you what a pain the moondust was for them back in the day.  Apollo astronauts reported moondust sticking to everything, spacesuits and all, and, consequentially, clogging up everything.

During the Apollo program, scientist discovered that the statically charged moondust proved to be quite an engineering problem, but now, researchers are starting to realize that lunar dust may also pose a significant health risk for astronauts to come.  One superficial aspect of moondust is that it extremely small and jagged, much like tiny, little shards of glass.  There is no consistent weathering process on the moon, unlike here on Earth, so rounded edges cannot develop on the dust particles.  For Apollo astronauts, the sandpaper-like nature of moondust scratched faceplates and caused irritation to both the eyes and lungs.  To combat this problem, right now, researches of the Lunar Airborne Dust Toxicity Advisory Group (or LADTAG) are exposing lab rats to moondust aerosols and studying the effects. Additionally, in the lunar, airless, environment, moondust is also super chemically reactive.  On Earth, the constant presence of highly reactive oxygen in the atmosphere quells any potentially reactive compounds on surfaces when they are exposed to air. Fortunately, scientist believe that the high reactivity of moondust will probably not be a major problem, considering that future lunar astronauts will most likely come equip with their own supply of air…hopefully.

As you read, research aimed at learning more about the above mentioned nuances of lunar dust marches on; however, I believe there is one more possible moondust complication which merits scientific attention: moondust allergy.  I know this may seem silly at first, but if astronauts or lunar settlers are going to be living with moondust day in and day out and, thus, become chronically exposed to it, then there is always the possibility of a longterm sensitization allergy developing.  Furthermore, some more sinister type of moondust-induced autoimmune disease may also be lurking in the future for humans living on the moon.  Here on Earth, there have been reported cases of humans developing a rare type of autoimmune disease while breathing in pig-brain aerosols at meat-packing plants, so I guess that anything is possible.

In spite of how threatening moondust seems to be for the future of lunar colonization, I couldn’t be happier that there are at least some people doing research in hopes of making life on the moon possible.  The problem of moondust does seem to be quite a suborn one to deal with, but I’m guessing that, with a little brain juice, we humans should be able to figure this out^^