Every object, planet or person traveling through space has to fight against the damaging radiation of the Sun – and the Moon has the scars to prove it.
Research using NASA's ARTEMIS mission data – abbreviation for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of Moon's Interaction with the Sun – suggests how the solar wind and the crustal magnetic fields of the Moon work together to give the Moon a distinct pattern of dark swirls lighter.
The Sun releases a continuous stream of particles and radiation called the solar wind. The solar wind washes the planets, moons and other bodies of our solar system, filling a space bubble called the heliosphere that extends beyond Pluto's orbit.
Here on Earth we are largely shielded from the damaging effects of the solar wind: As the solar wind is magnetized, the Earth's natural magnetic field diverts the solar wind particles around our planet so that only a small fraction of them reaches the atmosphere of our planet.
But unlike Earth, the Moon does not have a global magnetic field. However, the magnetized rocks near the lunar surface create small localized magnetic field points that extend from hundreds of yards to hundreds of kilometers. This is the kind of information that needs to be well understood to better protect the Moon's astronauts from the effects of radiation. Magnetic field bubbles alone are not robust enough to protect humans from that hostile radiation environment, but studying its structure could help develop techniques to protect our future explorers.
"Magnetic fields in some regions are acting locally as a magnetic sunscreen," said Andrew Poppe, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who researches the Moon's crustal magnetic fields using data from NASA's ARTEMIS mission along with field simulations of the Moon.
These tiny bubbles of magnetic "sunscreen" can also deflect particles from the solar wind – but on a much smaller scale than the Earth's magnetic field. While they are not enough to protect the astronauts by themselves, they have a fundamental effect on the appearance of the Moon. Under these miniature magnetic umbrellas, the material that makes up the surface of the Moon, called regolith, is protected from the particles of the Sun As these particles flow towards the Moon, they are diverted to the areas near the magnetic bubbles, where the chemical reactions with the regolith darken the surface. This creates the distinct swirls of darker, lighter materials so prominent that they can be seen from Earth – another piece of the puzzle to help us understand the neighbor NASA is planning to revisit in the next decade.
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