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NASA: Solar Storms Could Melt Lunar Soil

First Posted: Jan 09, 2017 02:17 AM EST
Moon
Its lack of atmosphere makes the Moon especially vulnerable to solar events.
(Photo : Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Powerful solar storms could have the capacity to charge the surfaces of frigid, permanently shadowed regions of the Moon, to the point of producing "sparks" that could melt and vaporize its soil.

Economic Times India noted that this sort of alteration can become evident in analyzing samples from these lunar regions. Also, it could hold the key to understanding the history of the Moon and even the solar system as a whole. With no atmosphere to speak of, the lunar land is exposed to a harsh space environment to the point that small meteoroid impacts could affect or "garden" the top layer of its dust and rock.

Andrew Jordan of the University of New Hampshire in the U.S. said that about 10 percent of the "gardened layer" has already melted and are, in fact, vaporized by meteoroid impacts. He shared that, "In the moon's permanently shadowed regions, sparks from solar storms could melt or vaporize a similar percentage."

There are several solar events that could be dangerous. Explosive solar activities like flares and coronal mass ejections, for instance, could blast highly energetic and electrically charged particles into space. But thanks to Earth's own atmosphere, humans are shielded from most of the radiation. This lack of atmosphere is what makes the Moon especially vulnerable.

As The Te Cake noted, these particles tend to smash directly into the lunar surface and collect in layers underneath. They are, however, unable to penetrate deeply because they are prone to hitting the atoms in the "regolith," or the top layer of dust and rock.

The ions and electrons that find their way on the Moon's surface attract in their charges, but they do tend to flow towards each other and eventually balance out. These permanently shadowed regions accumulate charge in the layers underneath the regolith and are likely to release explosively, like miniature lightning strikes. It is why in intense solar storms, the regolith cannot stop the sudden electric discharge and can find itself in destructive situations in what is called the dielectric breakdown.

Timothy Stubbs of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center shared that the process in not completely new to space science. "Electrostatic discharges can occur in any poorly conducting (dielectric) material exposed to intense space radiation and is actually the leading cause of spacecraft anomalies," he said.

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