Saturday, December 10, 2005

Scientists Studying Lunar Sunrise Storms

The truly amazing thing about Space is this: Just when you think you have something figured out, it turns out you were wrong and the thing is nothing you thought it was originally.
Case in point, something strange has been happening on the surface of the Moon at every lunar sunrise, and scientists are just now beginning to understand what's causing them.
Apollo 17 astronauts deposited a small scientific package on the Moon's surface before returning home. Called LEAM (Lunar Ejecta and Meteorites) the project was designed to determine how much Moon dust was expelled from the surface every time it was struck by a meteorite.
The experiment only recorded 620 hours of nighttime readings and 150 hours of daylight readings before it was shut down, but scientists are still trying to decipher what all the data means.
Basically, here's the gist: A lunar night lasts about two weeks. When the sun finally begins to rise, it actually changes the electrostatic charge of the dust which coats the entire surface causing a sort of "storm" or ridge of atmospheric disturbance, stretching from the lunar north pole to its south pole. Astronauts orbiting the Moon reported seeing these strange discharges, what they called a "horizon glow", as did NASA's Surveyor spacecraft.

Scientists now believe the electrostatically charged Moon dust hovers just above the surface, perhaps shooting skyward in eerily beautiful fountains, just before sunrise or sunset.
Of course nobody will know for sure until some future colonist snaps a digital picture of one out his kitchen window and e-mails it back home to her folks in Wisconsin.
Then it'll be a fact.

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