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Aug '05

SciFact–What A Little Moon Dust Can Do

Something as benign as dust seems to merit little attention. Most people worry more about the microorganisms and organic material that have significant consequences for things including allergies and agriculture. But when you factor in the moon (and other planetary objects, for that matter) dust itself becomes far more significant.

Lunar dust is extremely abrasive — and unavoidable — as astronauts quickly learned during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and ’70s. Within hours, the dust covered the astronauts’ spacesuits and equipment,
scratching lenses and corroding seals….

Under prolonged exposure, the explorers would be at risk for everything from mechanical failures in spacesuits and airlocks to lung disease, said researchers last week at a NASA workshop focused on the issue….

Moon dust is much more jagged than dust on Earth because there’s no water or wind on the moon to toss it around and grind down its edges. It’s created when meteorites, cosmic rays and solar winds slam into the
moon, turning its rocks into powdery topsoil.

We theorize that planets with more dense atmosphere and strong winds would have much less jagged dust. Mars often has huge dust storms thousands of miles across (more) so, hopefully, it will be less of a problem for any exploration/colonization efforts in the future. The moon, however, is not likely to have water nor wind anytime in the foreseable future.

Though no astronauts have reported coming down with any illnesses due to their contact with lunar dust — save for Schmitt’s brief allergic reaction — samples brought back to Earth have some peculiar properties that worry researchers.

For one, some of the dust particles are only a few microns wide. This makes it easy for the particles to get deep into the lungs and stay there. Scientists worry that this could eventually lead to fatal lung diseases similar to silicosis.

Also, the dust is littered with bonded shards of glass and minerals known as agglutinates, which were formed in the heat of meteorite impacts. Agglutinates have not been found on Earth, and scientists worry that the human body may not be able to expel them efficiently if inhaled.

They have sharp angles, with arms that stick out and little hooks,” said David McKay, chief scientist for astrobiology at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “It’s like Velcro.”

The full article can be found here:


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