According to recent data transmitted by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, the Moon is enveloped in a permanent, lopsided dust cloud, a probable result of countless comet collisions.
LADEE spacecraft provides a more accurate view on what earlier lunar missions such as Apollo 15 and 17 had deemed a strange “glow” visible only on sunrise. NASA scientists explained that the spacecraft is part of the first mission that was especially designed to make observations on the Moon’s dust cloud.
Unlike other missions LADEE is equipped with dedicated instruments that can sense and analyze dust particles in lower orbits. Up to this moment other missions had only relied on remote sensing imaging, which has severe limitations.
“The cloud we identified is comprised of bigger particles and their density is so low that this cloud could not have been noticed by the astronauts,”
explained Prof. Mihaly Horanyi, lead researcher of the mission.
Additionally, the team found that other space bodies that lack an atmosphere may also share common dust traits with the Moon. Researchers were thinking of the moons of Mars, which may also be surrounded by thick dust clouds caused by collisions with cosmic particles originating in the Kuiper belt.
Prof. Horanyi has been studying space dust for decades. In the 1990s, he was involved in NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter, where he supervised a dust detector system that spotted dust clouds around the gas giant’s frigid moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
So, the question either our moon also had a similar dust cloud created by collisions with “interplanetary dust particles” came into his mind. Moreover, the researcher also took part in the analysis of Comet Halley in the 1980s.
Back then, comets were the most likely candidates to carry surrounding dust particles, but no one knew the Moon might also carry charged dust particles hovering above its surface.
LADEE mission debuted in October 2013 and it was a sheer success. In only 80 days, the mobile space laboratory detected more than 140,000 dust particles. The spacecraft also revealed that the dust cloud did not have an even shape, which may suggest that dust particles came from comet impacts.
LADEE also detected bursts of up to 50 particles every minute, so scientists concluded that those particles were generated by a singular comet impact. The idea was backed by a spike in the bursts during the yearly Geminid meteor shower.
Researchers explained that on Earth we see meteor showers as a shooting star show, but on the Moon, which lacks an atmosphere, the interplanetary particles collide with its surface and give birth to the mysterious dust cloud.
Image Source: Daily Mail