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Meteoroids have been pounding the surface of the Moon for billions of years. The countless impacts have chewed up the surface of the Moon, creating a vast layer of finely ground material. In the younger parts of the Moon, this lunar soil, or regolith, can extend down for 4-5 meters, and in the older lunar highlands, it can be 10 meters or more. This fine lunar dust is going to be a problem when astronauts return to the Moon.
When the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, they reported that the fine moon dust stuck to their spacesuits when the walked on the lunar surface, and then dusted the inside of the lunar lander. The lunar dust is very abrasive, and can wear down spacesuits and electronics. The astronauts said that it got into their eyes, making them red. And even more disturbing, it got into their lungs, giving them a cough.
Why is this lunar dust so nasty? If you look at it under a microscope, moon dust is sharp and jagged. That’s because the micrometeoroid impacts broke up the lava into tiny pieces. But there’s no weathering process on the Moon that wears down the jagged edges. Here on Earth, wind and water roll the particles around, smoothing them out, but no such process exists on the Moon.
Since NASA is planning to send humans back to the Moon at the end of the next decade, they’re working on solutions to deal with the lunar dust. The particles of lunar dust are just a few microns wide. This is small enough for them to get deeply lodged in the lungs. This could eventually lead to fatal lung diseases. NASA scientists are looking at special showers or electrostatic devices that might be able to strip the dust off the astronaut’s clothing before they return inside a future Moon base.
We have done several articles about moon dust on Universe Today. Here’s an article that talks about how the low gravity on the Moon will help the lunar dust get deep into astronaut lungs.