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Old 04-18-2008, 08:58 PM   #2
tshiggins's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Denver, Colorado
Default Re: Real-Life Weirdness

Here's mine, from

Full moons are said to be behind many strange things, but here's one you didn't know about: At full moon, our favorite satellite is whipped by Earth's magnetotail, causing lunar dust storms and discharges of static electricity.

This new finding, announced this week by NASA, is important to future lunar explorers: Astronauts may find themselves "crackling with electricity like a sock pulled out of a hot dryer," according to an agency statement.

The effect on the moon was first noticed in 1968, when NASA's Surveyor 7 lander photographed a strange glow on the horizon after dark. Nobody knew what it was. Now scientists think it was sunlight scattered by electrically charged moon dust floating just above the surface. That fits with data from NASA's Lunar Prospector, which orbited the moon in 1998-99. During some crossings of the magnetotail, the spacecraft recorded big changes in the lunar night-side voltage.

How it works

Our entire planet is enveloped in a bubble of magnetism generated by the rotating core. The solar wind, a stream of charged particles, pushes the bubble away from the sun and creates a long tail of magnetized material downstream.

"Earth's magnetotail extends well beyond the orbit of the moon and, once a month [at full moon] the moon orbits through it," said Tim Stubbs, a University of Maryland scientist working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This can have consequences ranging from lunar 'dust storms' to electrostatic discharges."

Here's what Stubbs and colleagues now think is happening:

At full moon, the moon passes through a huge "plasma sheet" hot charged particles trapped in the tail. The lightest and most mobile of these particles, electrons, pepper the moon's surface and give the moon a negative charge, the researchers explained.

On the moon's dayside this effect is counteracted somewhat by sunlight: Photons knock electrons back off the surface, lessening the negative charge. But on the night side, electrons accumulate and the charge can climb to thousands of volts.
What happens when the first astronauts visit the dark side of the moon?
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