Earth's Moon Has Unexpected Activity by Interacting with the Solar Wind

Catherine Griffin
First Posted: Dec 01, 2015 10:53 AM EST

It turns out that the lunar space environment is far more active than previously thought. Scientists have found that the solar windmay have effects on lunar water levels and other features on the nearby world.

In this latest study, the researchers turned to the Swedish space instrument, SARA. This particular instrument measured a strong and varied interaction between the moon and solar wind.

The solar wind is a continuous flow of plasma from the sun which affects the planets in the solar system and contributes to causing aurora on Earth. The lunar atmosphere, though, is too thin to show the same phenomenon. In addition, the moon lacks a global magnetic field to regulate the solar wind. This is why researchers have long believed that the moon passively absorbs solar wind without it affecting its surroundings.

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Now, though, researchers have found evidence that solar winds do impact the moon. It turns out that the surface of the moon and local magnetic fields of the lunar crust reflect some of the solar wind. The reflected solar wind ions move in spiraling tracks that can take them from the lunar dayside to the nightside of the moon. In local areas with strong magnetism, the solar wind flow is restricted to the surface at the same time as adjacent areas receive increased flow. In the long term, this can have an effect on the water levels in the lunar crust.

"The effects can even be seen in the form of visible light-like bright swirls imprinted on the surface of the moon," said Charles Lue, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The observations help us map and understand the variations in the lunar space environment. They also give us clues about the physical processes involved and the long-term effects they have on the lunar surface."

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