Electric sparks may alter evolution of lunar soil

Aug 21, 2014
This illustration shows a permanently shadowed region of the moon undergoing subsurface sparking (the "lightning bolts"), which ejects vaporized material (the "clouds") from the surface. Subsurface sparking occurs at a depth of about one millimeter. Image not to scale. Credit: Andrew Jordan.

The moon appears to be a tranquil place, but modeling done by University of New Hampshire and NASA scientists suggests that, over the eons, periodic storms of solar energetic particles may have significantly altered the properties of the soil in the moon's coldest craters through the process of sparking—a finding that could change our understanding of the evolution of planetary surfaces in the solar system.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, proposes that high-energy particles from uncommon, large solar storms penetrate the moon's frigid, polar regions and electrically charge the soil. The charging may create sparking, or electrostatic breakdown, and this "breakdown weathering" process has possibly changed the very nature of the moon's polar soil, suggesting that permanently shadowed regions, which hold clues to our solar system's past, may be more active than previously thought.

"Decoding the history recorded within these cold, dark craters requires understanding what processes affect their soil," says Andrew Jordan of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, lead author of the paper. "To that end, we built a computer model to estimate how high-energy particles detected by the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) instrument on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) can create significant electric fields in the top layer of lunar soil."

The scientists also used data from the Electron, Proton, and Alpha Monitor (EPAM) on the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE). CRaTER, which is led by scientists from UNH, and EPAM both detect high-energy particles, including (SEPs). SEPs, after being created by solar storms, stream through space and bombard the moon. These particles can build up electric charges faster than the soil can dissipate them and may cause sparking, particularly in the polar cold of permanently shadowed regions—unique lunar sites as cold as minus 240 degrees Celsius and known to contain water ice.

Says Jordan, "Sparking is a process in which electrons, released from the soil grains by strong electric fields, race through the material so quickly that they vaporize little channels." Repeated sparking with each large could gradually grow these channels large enough to fragment the grains, disintegrating the into smaller particles of distinct minerals, Jordan and colleagues hypothesize.

The next phase of this research will involve investigating whether other instruments aboard LRO could detect evidence for sparking in , as well as improving the model to better understand the process and its consequences.

"If breakdown weathering occurs on the moon, then it has important implications for our understanding of the evolution of planetary surfaces in the , especially in extremely cold regions that are exposed to harsh radiation from space," says coauthor Timothy Stubbs of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Explore further: Image: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's view of Tycho central peak

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User comments : 15

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DeliriousNeuron
1 / 5 (6) Aug 21, 2014
Well Aunt Ira, guess I'm a Skippy. Is it becoming obvious to you now?
britton_beckham
1.2 / 5 (6) Aug 24, 2014
Inch by Inch, NASA and ESA scientists will begin to take credit for discovering the properties and evidence that is our Electric Universe.
Whydening Gyre
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2014
Slow down guys... It's the solar particle charges that cause the compositional nature of the moons soil to exhibit conductivity and occasionally discharge built up electrical charge to less charged areas of itself. Nowhere are they saying an electric charge zapped out across space from the sun.
You'd be better off saying "our electrically active moon" than electric Universe...
britton_beckham
1 / 5 (6) Aug 24, 2014
A couple of weeks ago NASA warns of electric asteroids; now this. We have a satellite orbiting a "comet" that has no trace of frozen water on it. Jupiter and Io are electrically connected, the planets are tethered to the Sun electrically... Point is that there is a lot here about electricity that isn't getting the attention it truly deserves. It doesn't play a minor role, it's a major role in cosmology.
NOM
4.5 / 5 (8) Aug 24, 2014
Great, all we need is another EU clown
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Aug 24, 2014
A couple of weeks ago NASA warns of electric asteroids; now this. We have a satellite orbiting a "comet" that has no trace of frozen water on it. Jupiter and Io are electrically connected, the planets are tethered to the Sun electrically... Point is that there is a lot here about electricity that isn't getting the attention it truly deserves. It doesn't play a minor role, it's a major role in cosmology.

As the primary carrier of magnetic field information...
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2014
A couple of weeks ago NASA warns of electric asteroids; now this. We have a satellite orbiting a "comet" that has no trace of frozen water on it. Jupiter and Io are electrically connected, the planets are tethered to the Sun electrically... Point is that there is a lot here about electricity that isn't getting the attention it truly deserves. It doesn't play a minor role, it's a major role in cosmology.

As the primary carrier of magnetic field information...

Yeah, that is however only an artist's impression.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2014
As the primary carrier of magnetic field information...

Yeah, that is however only an artist's impression.

Yup...
Captain Stumpy
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 25, 2014
Point is that there is a lot here about electricity that isn't getting the attention it truly deserves
@britton_beckham
1- that is an issue of media VS Science and you cannot make that extrapolation based upon a single article and your personal beliefs
2- this is science. it goes where it takes us
It doesn't play a minor role, it's a major role in cosmology.
and you can extrapolate this from the article how?
this is what is called a PERSONAL CONJECTURE and it is NOT supported by EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE or EMPIRICAL DATA

There is NO empirical data from a reputable source that has an impact in astrophysics supporting your conclusions, otherwise you would have provided links

and the eu site is KNOWN PSEUDOSCIENCE site, so don't bother linking to that (which should tell you volumes )
Great, all we need is another EU clown
@NOM
I know, right?
i guess we could give him a chance to learn some real physics though
maybe he is more scientific/logical than the rest?
Uncle Ira
4 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2014
Well Aunt Ira, guess I'm a Skippy. Is it becoming obvious to you now?


@ Delicious-Skippy. It was obvious the first time I see one of your postums, Now it is being obvious to everybody else, Delicious-Skippy is the one wearing the silly looking pointy cap.
no fate
3 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2014
Slow down guys... It's the solar particle charges that cause the compositional nature of the moons soil to exhibit conductivity and occasionally discharge built up electrical charge to less charged areas of itself. Nowhere are they saying an electric charge zapped out across space from the sun.
You'd be better off saying "our electrically active moon" than electric Universe...


Man, I so want to agree because the EU misconceptions are blatant...but your post is contradictory. Charged particles constitute current, if they are landing on the moon it is due to a difference in electric potential, if the source is the sun and the end of the journey is the moon, electric charge is indeed "zapping out across space" from the sun to the moon...one particle at a time.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2014
Man, I so want to agree because the EU misconceptions are blatant...but your post is contradictory. Charged particles constitute current, if they are landing on the moon it is due to a difference in electric potential, if the source is the sun and the end of the journey is the moon, electric charge is indeed "zapping out across space" from the sun to the moon...one particle at a time.

I see where you find the contradiction.
Try it this way. The charged particles, themselves, are not electricity. They are carriers of the info (potential) that confers electrical properties if a "critical mass" of them is achieved at the "ground" end (moon). That critical mass is variable, but entirely dependent on the molecular makeup (conductivity) of the lunar surface. The "potential" is collecting to a point of eventual discharge.
That probably isn't 100%, either... but you get the drift (hopefully)...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2014
No fate,
Thanks for making me think about that one. After I posted, it generated a flash of insight clearer than any I've had in the last 30 years! A true, head slapping "doh!" moment!
I'll share when I get my "translation" organized... (English language can be a bitch even for English speakers).
no fate
not rated yet Aug 26, 2014
Man, I so want to agree because the EU misconceptions are blatant...but your post is contradictory. Charged particles constitute current, if they are landing on the moon it is due to a difference in electric potential, if the source is the sun and the end of the journey is the moon, electric charge is indeed "zapping out across space" from the sun to the moon...one particle at a time.

I see where you find the contradiction.
Try it this way. The charged particles, themselves, are not electricity. They are carriers of the info (potential) that confers electrical properties if a "critical mass" of them is achieved at the "ground" end (moon). That critical mass is variable, but entirely dependent on the molecular makeup (conductivity) of the lunar surface. The "potential" is collecting to a point of eventual discharge.
That probably isn't 100%, either... but you get the drift (hopefully)...


It is 100%. Nice.
no fate
not rated yet Aug 26, 2014
No fate,
Thanks for making me think about that one. After I posted, it generated a flash of insight clearer than any I've had in the last 30 years! A true, head slapping "doh!" moment!
I'll share when I get my "translation" organized... (English language can be a bitch even for English speakers).


Eager to read it. Those are the moments when you feel like the guy from "Limitless".

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