A new solution to the problem of spring cleaning on the moon

A dustbuster for the moon.


Dust mobilized on the lunar surface due to natural processes and human activities can readily stick to spacesuits, optical devices, and mechanical components. This may lead to dust hazards that have been considered as one of the technical challenges for future lunar exploration. Several dust mitigation technologies have been investigated over the past years.

The lunar dust is not anything like stuff that builds up on bookshelves on Earth. Lunar dust is continually bathed in radiation from the sun, a bombardment that gives the material an electric charge. This way, that charge makes the dust extra sticky. It likewise has a distinct structure.

A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has presented a method utilizing an electron beam to shed dust off surfaces. Scientists have devised a new tool that shoots a concentrated (and safe) stream of negatively charged, low-energy particles.

A vacuum chamber on the CU Boulder campus. (Credits: IMPACT lab)
A vacuum chamber on the CU Boulder campus. (Credits: IMPACT lab)

Scientists tested the tool by aiming it at a range of dirty surfaces inside of a vacuum chamber. What they discovered- the dust just flew away.

Xu Wang, a research associate in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder, said“Electron beams offered a promising solution. According to a theory developed from recent scientific studies of how dust naturally lofts on the lunar surface, such a device could turn the electric charges on dust particles into a weapon against them. If you hit layer dust with a stream of electrons, that dusty surface will collect additional negative charges. Pack enough charges into the spaces between the particles, and they may begin to push each other away—much like magnets do when the wrong ends are forced together.”

“The charges become so large that they repel each other, and then dust ejects off of the surface.”

“The trick worked on a wide range of surfaces, too, including spacesuit fabric and glass. This new technology aims at cleaning the finest dust particles, which are difficult to remove using brushes. The method was able to clean dusty surfaces by an average of about 75-85%.”

Scientists are currently experimenting with new ways to increase the cleaning power of their electron beam.

Journal Reference:

  1. B. Farr et al. Dust mitigation technology for lunar exploration utilizing an electron beam. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2020.08.003


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