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Feb 28, 2019

NASA decodes how our Moon got 'sunburns'

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NASA has discovered that the Moons 'sunburns' -- distinctivepatterns of swirls -- are a result of interactions between the Sun's damagingradiation with pockets of lunar magnetic field. Every object, planet or persontravelling through space has to contend with the Sun's damaging radiation.

Research using data from NASA's Acceleration, Reconnection,Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon's Interaction with the Sun (ARTEMIS)mission suggests that lunar swirls could be the result of solar windinteractions with the Moon's isolated pockets of magnetic field. 

The Sun releases a continuous outflow of particles andradiation called the solar wind. The solar wind washes over the planets, moonsand other bodies in our solar system, filling a bubble of space -- called theheliosphere -- that extends far past the orbit of Pluto.


On Earth, we are largely protected from the damaging effectsof the solar wind. Since the solar wind is magnetised, Earth's natural magneticfield deflects the solar wind particles around our planet so that only a smallfraction of them reach our planet's atmosphere.


Unlike Earth, the Moon has no global magnetic field.However, magnetised rocks near the lunar surface do create small, localisedspots of magnetic field that extend anywhere from hundreds of yards to hundredsof miles. 


Researchers warned that  this is the kind ofinformation that needs to be well understood to better protect astronauts onthe Moon from the effects of radiation .


Andrew Poppe, a scientist at the University of California,Berkeley in the US, said the magnetic field bubbles by themselves are notrobust enough to protect humans from that harsh radiation environment, butstudying their structure could help develop techniques to protect our futureexplorers.


These small bubbles of magnetic "sunscreen" canalso deflect solar wind particles -- but on a much smaller scale than Earth'smagnetic field. While they are not enough to protect astronauts by themselves,they do have a fundamental effect on the Moon's appearance. 


Under these miniature magnetic umbrellas, the material thatmakes up the Moon's surface, called regolith, is shielded from the Sun'sparticles. 


As those particles flow toward the Moon, they are deflectedto the areas just around the magnetic bubbles, where chemical reactions withthe regolith darken the surface. 


This creates the distinctive swirls of darker and lightermaterial that are so prominent they can be seen from Earth -- one more piece ofthe puzzle to help us understand the neighbour, NASA plans to re-visit withinthe next decade. 

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