picture of the day
glow on the lunar horizon. Credit: NASA/Surveyor 7
Nov 17, 2008
Lunar Dust Levitation
Static electric charge might help to explain
the glowing haze sometimes seen rising 100 kilometers above the
Between May 1966 and January 1968, NASA launched the
Surveyor missions to the Moon. Each Surveyor spacecraft weighed
approximately 450 kilograms and was designed to soft-land on the lunar surface,
riding the tip of a retrorocket descent engine. Surveyor 7 made one of the most
intriguing discoveries when its onboard camera detected a faint glow in the
lunar night, hovering over the horizon.
In 1998, the
Lunar Prospector was launched from Cape Canaveral with gamma-ray
spectrometer, alpha particle spectrometer, neutron spectrometer, magnetometer
and electron reflectometer instrumentation. During several orbits, the
spacecraft detected a surprisingly high voltage change as it passed through the
magnetotail extending outward from Earth. The magnetotail is actually a part of
the plasma sheath that envelops the Earth. The Moon passes through it once a
month at full moon phase and the electric differential was found to occur during
The Earth is surrounded by a
magnetic field that is trapped inside a cometary plasma tail
that actually stretches well beyond the Moon's orbit. The
Earth's magnetospheric tail points away from the Sun due to the
high-speed ions streaming from the Sun.
The movement of the Moon through the ionized plasma affects the
materials in the lunar regolith. Electrons accumulate and
produce a negative charge on the ultra-fine dust particles,
causing them to repel each other and drift off the surface.
Charge differential between the day and night side of the Moon
might actually generate an ion “wind” flowing from the
negatively charged night side into the more positively charged
sunlit side. The negative charge on the bright surface during
daylight is moderated by the photoelectric phenomenon, while it
tends to build up in the darkness, forming static electricity.
The charge variation between the two hemispheres has been
measured at more than 1000 volts.
Earth's cometary plasma cocoon changes shape and power as
electric currents from the Sun bombard our planet. It is
sometimes described as a “flag waving” because of somewhat
regular oscillations in the field. This means that the Moon does
not simply pass through the magnetotail once and briefly, but
that electric charges will brush the surface several times
during each monthly encounter.
Electric currents exist in space and their effects are varied,
depending on the environment. According to the Electric Universe
hypothesis, electric currents from the Sun influence Martian
weather by initiating gigantic dust storms and “super twisters”
larger than Mt. Everest. These filamentary structures are much
like those found on Earth, except larger because the
ameliorating atmosphere on our planet does not exist on Mars.
In a previous Picture of the Day, activity inside tornadoes and
in the magma discharges from volcanoes was found to be of
electrical origin. The levitating dust and the faint glow on the
lunar horizon are most likely because the Moon has no atmosphere
at all, so the electric charges have greater impetus.
The Electric Universe model
suggests that transfer of electricity between the Earth and the
Moon via the Earth's conducting plasma tail also applies to more
distant Mars. Global dust storms on Mars seem to occur
preferentially at opposition, and Earth's magnetotail has been
detected approaching Mars. Like the Moon, Mars has no
magnetosheath, so the same "tail effect" could occur on Mars,
where it would influence the thin atmosphere. This would also
explain the enigmatic "blue clearing" of the Martian atmosphere
when viewed telescopically at opposition. The "blue clearing"
refers to a blue atmospheric glow that normally renders surface
features on Mars invisible through a blue filter.
By Stephen Smith
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