A new study from NASA sheds light on a strange lunar phenomena known as levitating moon dust.
Researchers have found that micron-sized dust particles can “jump” up to a few inches high under the pressures cause by ultraviolet radiation and exposure to plasmas. The research will help to cast understanding on how lunar dust is transported across airless bodies such as the moon.
“On Earth’s moon, these dust particles would have been lofted more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) above the lunar surface, leading researchers to conclude that the moon’s ‘horizon glow’ — seen in images taken by Surveyor 5, 6 and 7 five decades ago — may have been caused in part by sunlight scattering in a cloud of electrostatically lofted dust particles,” note NASA officials in a statement.
The horizontal glow mentioned above refers to a slim crescent of light that appeared all along the horizon, and just before sunrise, faint rays appeared, similar to the columns of light seen on Earth when sunlight pokes through a hole in a layer of clouds. On Earth, the horizon glow seen at sunrise and sunset, and the rays, are created when sunlight scatters off atmospheric moisture and dust. But the moon has almost no atmosphere — its atmosphere is so thin, atoms and molecules there rarely collide with each other and it’s technically referred to as an “exosphere”. This thin atmosphere should not have produced the horizon glow seen.
Movement of dust particles can also contribute to dust on ponds on other airless bodies such as comets such as Eros, and the smooth finish of Saturn’s moon Atlas.