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Lunar polar craters 'may be electrified'

world Updated: Apr 17, 2010 14:15 IST
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Planetary scientists at NASA have claimed that the lunar polar craters, which are said to contain water ice, may be electrified.

According to their findings, published in the 'Journal of Geophysical Research', as the solar wind flows over natural obstructions on the moon, it may charge polar lunar craters to hundreds of volts.

Polar lunar craters are of interest because of resources which exist there. The moon's orientation to the sun
keeps the bottoms of the craters in permanent shadow allowing temperatures there to plunge below minus 400 degrees F, cold enough to store volatile material for billions of years.

"However, our research suggests that, in addition to the wicked cold, explorers and robots at the bottoms of polar
lunar craters may have to contend with a complex electrical environment as well, which can affect surface chemistry,
static discharge, and dust cling," said team leader William Farrell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

According to the scientists, solar wind inflow into craters can erode the surface that affects recently discovered
water molecules. Static discharge could short out sensitive equipment, while the sticky and extremely abrasive lunar dust could wear out spacesuits and may be hazardous if tracked inside spacecraft and inhaled over long periods.

The solar wind is a thin gas of electrically charged components of atoms -- negatively charged electrons
and positively charged ions -- that is constantly blowing from the surface of the sun into space.

Since the moon is only slightly tilted compared to the sun, the solar wind flows almost horizontally over the
lunar surface at the poles and along the region where day transitions to night, called the terminator.