NASA/Victor Tangermann
Electricity in the Air

Moon’s Surface Could Electrocute Astronauts, Scientists Warn

byVictor Tangermann
12. 19. 19
NASA/Victor Tangermann

It's not just lunar dust that astronauts have to worry about.

ZAP!

The Moon’s lack of an atmosphere and magnetic field means particles from the Sun go straight to the lunar surface.

That gives the Moon’s surface an electric charge — and it mean future astronauts run the risk of being zapped when they visit the Moon, according to University of Southern California plasma physicist Joseph Wang’s research, as Gizmodo reports.

Balancing Charges

Wang’s team found that the electrically charged lunar surface “raises concerns on possible charging/arcing risks for astronauts on lunar surface,” according to the abstract of his team’s paper, which it presented at this year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

It’s not unlike the experience of (Moon) walking across a carpet wearing socks and then feeling a zap when you touch a metal doorknob — except without an atmosphere, you wouldn’t even need to make contact with the doorknob on the Moon.

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Cautiously Optimistic

So why haven’t astronauts been zapped just yet? That’s because the areas they visited during past missions were bathed in direct sunlight, according to Wang, and the photons from that light helped balance out the surface’s otherwise negative charge, making shocks far less likely.

Future missions, however, will see astronauts visiting the Moon’s south pole, which gets far less sunlight.

Jim Rice, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, told Gizmodo he doesn’t think electrocution should be an actual concern for those astronauts. But he also didn’t rule out issues with larger future operations, such as ones that might involve bulldozing large amounts of charged materials around on the Moon.

READ MORE: Why the Next Lunar Astronauts May Have to Worry About Electric Shocks [Gizmodo]

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More on the lunar surface: NASA: Four Astronauts Will Stay on the Moon For Two Weeks


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