Moon dust could scramble lunar rovers

<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

All the Pledge in the world couldn’t keep the dust off a lunar rover parked in the wrong part of the moon, according to a new study.

Presenting at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in Scotland, Farideh Honary of the University of Lancaster used computer simulations to show that moon dust becomes electrically charged, like a plasma, in a region of the moon called “the terminator.”

This region is at the boundary between night and day. According to the study, a rover landing in the terminator region would soon find itself covered in moon dust, which would keep accumulating over time.

The dust could cause some serious problems for rover machinery and astronauts. Past research on moon dust indicated a negative effect on breathing in humans.


To cope with the dust, Honary suggests building a dome-shaped rover or simply landing to avoid the terminator, which shifts slowly as the moon rotates.

NASA currently has no plans to send rovers back to the moon, focusing its efforts on Mars. However, private enterprises, such as Bigelow Aerospace, are interested in indulging this generation’s Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. If so, they should heed Honary’s warning and steer clear of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite moon site.

[For the record, 5:31 p.m. July 5: A previous version of this post said the terminator region of the moon is in perpetual dusk. In fact, the shadowy region moves as the moon rotates.]

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