Earth's Magnetic Field - A Hazard For Lunar Astronauts?

Apr 16, 2007
Earth\'s Moon

For four days every month the Moon passes through the magnetic field of the Earth and parts of the lunar surface are charged with static electricity. Next week Dr Mike Hapgood of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will present a model at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Preston, which suggests that this charging may increase after the year 2012 and become an important issue for future lunar explorers.

Once in every orbit around the Earth the Moon moves through the magnetic tail - the region on the nightside of the Earth where the magnetic field is drawn out into a million or more kilometre long tail pointing away from the Sun. In the middle of the tail there is a region full of energetic electrons and other charged particles (the plasmasheet).

When the Moon passes through the plasmasheet these electrons can collect on parts of the lunar surface and charge them with static electricity. Observations from NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft during 1998 confirm the existence of this charging.

Dr Hapgood’s model suggests that the exposure of the Moon to plasmasheet charging varies markedly over an 18-year cycle linked to changes in the Moon's orbit. This exposure was low at the time of the Apollo landings in the early 1970s and is low again today - but it was high in the 1990s and will rise again after 2012. The United States, Russia, India, Japan and China have all announced plans to send astronauts back to the Moon around the year 2020 – at the time when lunar surface charging is predicted to be high.

Lunar surface charging may be an important issue for future lunar exploration because it increases the risk of electric discharges, which can interfere with and damage sensitive electronics. It may also affect the behaviour of lunar dust, which is a recognised hazard for lunar astronauts as it can easily enter spacesuits, living quarters and equipment.

Dr Hapgood comments, “Electrical charging is one of the less well-known natural hazards of spaceflight. It’s important to understand it how this affects the Moon so spacecraft designers can use scientific knowledge to protect future explorers.”

Source: Royal Astronomical Society

Explore further: Liquid crystal bubble OASIS in space

Related Stories

Classroom acoustics for architects

9 hours ago

The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) has published a free online booklet for architects to aid in the application of ANSI/ASA S12.60-2010/Part 1-American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, ...

Recommended for you

The view from up there, down here

2 hours ago

When many people saw the first stunning photos of the fragile blue marble of Earth from space, it changed their outlook of humanity. It was a singular moment in time when people around the world were watching ...

The weird ways fire behaves in space (w/ Video)

4 hours ago

Light a match on earth and you can expect the flame to shoot up in a tapering bulb. But light that match in space and you might not even recognize the small, blue orb at the tip. That's because fire behaves ...

Russia loses comms with ISS cargo spacecraft (Update)

6 hours ago

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were left with a long wait Tuesday to get their latest food and fuel deliveries after an unmanned Russian supply ship lost communications following takeoff.

Liquid crystal bubble OASIS in space

19 hours ago

No matter how beautiful or crystal clear the bubbling waters of an oasis may be, they seldom lead to technology breakthroughs. Yet, NASA's OASIS investigation's bubbles may lead to an ocean of new improvements ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

johnmatt
not rated yet Jul 08, 2008
interesting stuff. I was reading this article about how the magnetic field may be changing ( http://blackandwh...ic-field ) and I wonder if it will have any impact on the men on the moon.
nilbud
not rated yet Apr 19, 2009
We're due a pole flip, depending on how long that takes we could all being for a gamma ray tan.
nilbud
not rated yet Apr 19, 2009
"we could all be in" even

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.