A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado has revealed that the moon is surrounded by a permanent yet lopsided cloud of dust compiled of grains that rose to the surface of the planet when comets crashed on it.
Mihaly Horanyi, lead researcher and professor at University of Colorado Boulder, gave a statement informing that “A single dust particle from a comet striking the Moon’s surface lofts thousands of smaller dust specks into the airless environment and the lunar cloud is maintained by regular impacts from such particles”.
He goes on to add that knowledge of where there is dust is space and which way it’s heading has great value to astronomers as they can figure out which area to avoid to the danger they pose they pose to both astronauts and spacecrafts.
The study, published in the journal Nature, informs that the discovery was made with the help of data collected by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a spacecraft specialized in observing dust. Experts are quick to point out that the data looks different than what astronauts on Apollo 15 and 17 may have observed in the past.
It all started when the crew reported seeing a glow on the Moon’s surface. Said glow is believed by specialists to be caused by hovering dust particles that are traveling at thousands of miles per hour, moving counter-clockwise around our Sun.
The newly identified cloud of dust is made out of bigger particles than the ones previously observed, and their density is low enough that this particular could never have been noticed by the astronauts.
The discovery was unexpected but the researchers say that identifying the dust cloud engulfing the Moon is a gift they got from this mission.
Professor Horanyi sent an email to Space.com stressing that the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer was the first mission in recorded history to take a dedicated dust instrument into low-altitude orbit. He said that all other previous attempts consisted in remote sensing imaging.
The lead researcher and his team say all the other “airless” bodies in our solar system are most likely engulfed by similar clouds of dust. The working theory is that all of them probably get hit by particles from the Kuiper belt
What’s even more remarkable is that the cloud of dust increases its density during events such as the annual Geminid meteor shower hat takes place in December. The researchers observed that rates went up roughly 1.5 days around mid-month.
Professor Horanyi shared that when we enjoy shooting starts on Earth, the exact same interplanetary dust streams also crash on the Moon’s surface, but because there is no atmosphere, they hit the surface directly and generate secondary dust particles as a result.
Image Source: sciencedaily.com