Lunar Dust Fountains Due To Electrostatic Charges

A great article on NASA's website points out how science fiction author Hal Clement predicted in a 1956 short story that electrostatically charged lunar dust particles might actually suspend themselves above the surface:

"…The [Moon's] surface material is one of the lousiest imaginable electrical conductors, so the dust normally on the surface picks up and keeps a charge. And what, dear student, happens to particles carrying like electrical charges?"

"They are repelled from each other." (From Dust Rag, Astounding Science Fiction, 1956)

(Hal Clement's Astounding 1956 prediction)

Early Surveyor spacecraft (before the Apollo missions) did show a "twilight glow" on the airless moon. Apollo 17 astronauts repeatedly saw bands and streamers just before lunar sunrise or sunset.

As a result of this effect, "the Moon seems to have a tenuous atmosphere of moving dust particles."

I don't think I ever read the Clement story about the electrostatic charging of lunar dust. However, I do remember reading about the thermal insulating properties that a small pool of lunar dust might have in Arthur C. Clarke's excellent 1955 novel Earthlight. In the novel, several men go for a drive on the Moon, and get stuck in an uncharted lunar "dust bowl":

"...the tractor's nose disappeared in a great cloud of dust. The whole vehicle tilted forward... they seemed to be going under in swirling clouds of spray.

...They jolted their way forward in agonizingly slow surges, then Jamieson cut the engine completely.

"Why did you do that?" Wheeler asked anxiously. "We seemed to be getting some where."

"Yes, but we're also getting too hot. This dust is an almost perfect heat insulator...

Read the excellent article on Lunar Dust Fountains on NASA's website. (Thanks again to Winchell Chung for the tip on another cool story.)

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/31/2005)

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