Solar Storms Cause Sparks And Melt Soil On The Moon, NASA Says

First Posted: Jan 10, 2017 03:58 AM EST

A new NASA study has found that strong solar storms can charge up parts of the lunar surface that are located in frigid and permanently shadowed areas near the Moon's poles. Furthermore, solar storms can also trigger sparks that vaporize and melt the soil on the Moon.

The Moon is devoid of an atmosphere so the lunar surface remains exposed to the harsh conditions of space. Small meteoroid impacts constantly churn the Moon's top layer of dust and rock, known as regolith. "About 10 per cent of this gardened layer has been melted or vaporized by meteoroid impacts," said Andrew Jordan of U.S. University of New Hampshire. "We found that in the Moon's permanently shadowed regions, sparks from solar storms could melt or vaporize a similar percentage."

Explosive solar activity, like coronal mass ejections and flares, blasts highly energetic, electrically charged particles into space. While the atmosphere of the Earth shields the planet from such radiation, the Moon that has no atmosphere to protect it becomes the recipient of particles like ions and electrons that directly strike its surface and get accumulated in two layers beneath it.

According to an Economic Times report, in 2014 researchers found that powerful solar storms caused the regolith in the Moon's permanently shadowed area "to accumulate charge in these two layers until explosively released, like a miniature lightning strike."

Therefore, during intense solar storms, the regolith is expected to dispel the buildup of charge too slowly to avoid the devastating impact of a sudden electric discharge, called dielectric breakdown, which can alter the regolith. "This process is 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," said Timothy Stubbs of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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