The surface of the Moon could electrify astronauts according to an interesting study produced by Joseph Wang, a physicist at the University of Southern California. The study takes into account the hypothesis that the dusty surface of the Moon may be electrically charged in some of its regions to such an extent that it could create problems for space suits, which are known to boast various electronic components, or even the astronauts’ bodies and equipment.
An astronaut, for example, could suffer a static electricity shock a bit like when you touch a door handle after walking on a carpet, as Gizmodo points out. The surface of the Moon, in fact, is characterized by an electric charge whose accumulation is caused by the perennial exposure to the solar wind that carries streams of charged particles.
On Earth there is no accumulation because there is the magnetic field that protects us, but on the Moon, lacking the latter, all these electrons eventually charge the surface of our natural satellite.
It is precisely the dust present on the surface that is an excellent element to start a shock, that is, a transfer of the flow of these electrons, as Wang himself explains. Lunar dust is a problem and it’s one of the first elements you face when you organize a mission to the Moon. It starts to stick everywhere, basically on every kind of surface, and this could be a problem in relation to the charge that it could have accumulated.
In previous Apollo missions astronauts have shown that they have not reported problems in this sense but according to Wang himself there are particular regions on the Moon characterized by a surface that does not balance the negative charges brought by electrons from the solar wind. These regions would be precisely those of interest for NASA in relation to the landing of human beings, i.e. where sunlight hits the surface at a certain angle and where the permanently shaded regions are able to retain water in the form of ice.
In these regions an imbalance could occur and could accumulate large negative charges, up to hundreds or even thousands of volts according to the scientist’s hypothesis. This could be a problem for the material sorted in these areas or for any equipment and rovers. As for possible damage to the spacesuits, the researcher is conducting experiments to find more precise answers also in relation to NASA’s next mission.