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My Old Lunar Home

The walls and floor of an unnamed lunar crater. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The walls and floor of an unnamed lunar crater. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University


Oct 20, 2016

Is the Moon habitable?

Lunar colonization is a dream long held by humanity. Cyrano de Bergerac, in his book The Other World wrote:

“The angel had told me in my dream that if I wanted to acquire the perfect knowledge I desired, I would have to go to the Moon. There I would find Adam’s paradise and the Tree of Knowledge. As soon as I had tasted its fruit, my mind would be enlightened with all the truths a person could know.”

Indeed, when the Clementine spacecraft entered orbit around the Moon in January 1994, scientists announced that the south pole contained pockets of water ice shielded from the Sun inside deep craters. NASA launched the Deep Space Program Science Experiment satellite (Clementine) because the abundant water could be a source of hydrogen, and hydrogen mixed with other elements can provide water, fuel and even food.

A manned lunar base was tabled in the 1960s because of cost and scaling problems. Providing life support for a small group of astronauts means that the space vehicle would have to be enormous: oxygen, food and water, not to mention a habitat for an extended stay on the Moon, is beyond our current technology. Launching the payloads into space would mean a project too costly to contemplate even if it were technically feasible.

Clementine’s detection of water ice meant that establishing a Moon base was one step closer to reality. Areas of the south pole not far from some permanently shadowed craters are mountainous regions in permanent sunlight, known as “peaks of eternal sunshine,” so a continuous energy source might be available, provided they build the base on the mountaintops.

However, a team of researchers questioned the accuracy of Clementine’s data. The instruments might have detected reflections off the steep crater walls and not ice deposits. Since the radar signature came from both brightly illuminated and darkly shaded areas of Shackleton crater, it probably bounced off rocks and other debris rather than ice.

Putting the kibosh on the detection, the Japanese spacecraft Kaguya found that the south pole craters contain no ice after all. The floor of Shackleton crater was measured at –183 Celsius, but the terrain camera, with a 10 meter resolution, showed no bright, highly reflective patches. The researchers noted that the small excess of hydrogen ions recorded by instruments on previous missions was most likely implanted in the regolith by the solar wind.

The Moon saw cataclysmic devastation at some time in its past. There are giant craters, wide and deep valleys, and multi-kilometer long rilles crisscrossing its surface. Conventional theories postulate that the Moon experienced intense selenological activity in its history. Rilles and faults, known as “graben,” are said to result from activity similar to terrestrial earthquakes, implying that the Moon was born long ages ago, perhaps several billion years or more, and has not changed much since.

Most scientific theories are parochial in nature, taking their cues from Earth. They use those data to model formations observed on other celestial bodies. However, since there is no evidence that the Moon was once subjected to tectonic activity, Electric Universe theory proposes that the idea should be reversed: structures in space ought to model what is found on Earth.

Selenologists possess few tools that can help them understand planetary scarring, since there are no courses in electricity needed in their education. Plasma physicists realize that charged objects immersed in electric fields develop Langmuir sheaths, named after plasma pioneer Irving Langmuir. Langmuir sheaths isolate charged objects from each other inside double layers. If the charged objects are planets or moons, they might be surrounded by double layer plasmaspheres.

Laboratory experiments demonstrate that when charge sheaths collide they cause electrical breakdown. A large enough charge flow will initiate an electric arc. If smaller charge sheaths in the laboratory behave in a certain fashion, then larger planetary sheaths could trigger gigantic lightning bolts. Such interplanetary discharges could rip rock strata apart, carve surfaces with a plasma “torch” effect, and create intense heat through electromagnetic induction.

The Moon does not possess a plasmasphere: that does not mean that it was not enveloped in a charge sheath at some time in the past. Also, during part of its orbital path Earth’s plasmasphere encompasses the Moon, so electric discharge effects involving our planet could easily have included it. Rather than stretching or collapse, the rilles and graben on the Moon could have been incised by electric discharges at some time in the recent past.

Stephen Smith

With apologies to Stephen Foster


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