Lunar Charge Distribution

The Moon’s magnetic field. Credit: Mark A. Wieczorek.

Recent lunar missions have uncovered new information that changes the way we look at the Moon.

The Moon is a “dead body,” according to modern theories of the Solar System; it long ago exhausted any remnant heat that it retained from its birth. It has no intrinsic magnetic field and it does not radiate, except to reflect the light that it receives from the Sun. But could electrical forces have recently shaped the lunar surface?

The discovery of water ice at the south pole buried beneath the walls of sun-shaded craters was one of the more important new finds of the past few years. Latent magnetic fields were detected by the Lunar Prospector spacecraft in the 1990s. Evidence from that experiment points to a variable strength magnetic field imprinted on the Moon, and magnetism is a result of electric currents.

Recently, scientists from NASA’s Lunar Science Institute’s Dynamic Response of the Environment at the Moon (DREAM) project announced the discovery of electric charge in some of the polar craters. According to William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center: “….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.”

It is thought that the solar wind might be what charges up the craters to many hundreds of volts. Computer simulations led the researchers to believe that the solar wind acts like winds on Earth. Depending on temperature, winds flow into cold valleys. On the Moon, the solar wind flows down onto cold crater floors.

As their theory states, electrons, having less mass, flow into a lunar crater before the heavy ions, forming a negative charge. The heavy ions move into the crater at a lower pressure then the electrons, causing the interior walls and floor to become negatively charged. Charge separation is greatest along the crater rim closest to the solar wind flow.

The article suggests that “….the heavy ions have the greatest difficulty getting to the surface. Compared to the electrons, they act like a tractor-trailer struggling to follow a motorcycle; they just can’t make as sharp a turn over the mountain top as the electrons.” Planetary scientists relate electric current flow with kinetic illustrations once again.

Between May 1966 and January 1968, NASA launched the Surveyor spacecraft, which soft-landed on the lunar surface. Surveyor 7 made one of the mission’s most intriguing discoveries when its onboard camera detected a faint glow in the lunar night, hovering over the horizon.

In 1998, the Lunar Prospector detected a surprisingly high voltage change as it passed through Earth’s magnetotail. The magnetotail is part of a plasma sheath that envelops our planet. The Moon passes through it once a month during full moon phase. The electric differential was found to occur during that passage.

The Earth is surrounded by a magnetic field that is trapped inside a cometary plasma tail that stretches well beyond the Moon’s orbit. The Earth’s magnetospheric tail points away from the Sun due to the high-speed ions streaming along with the solar wind. The movement of the Moon through the ionized plasma affects the materials in the lunar regolith. Electrons accumulate and produce a negative charge on the ultra-fine dust particles, causing them to repel each other and drift off the surface. The levitating dust and the faint glow on the lunar horizon are most likely because the Moon has no atmosphere at all, so the electric charges have greater impetus.

Charge differential between the day and night side of the Moon might generate an ion “wind” flowing from the negatively charged night side into the more positively charged sunlit side. The negative charge on the bright surface during daylight is moderated by the photoelectric phenomenon, while it tends to build up in the darkness, forming static electricity. The charge variation between the two hemispheres has been measured at more than 1000 volts.

Electric Universe pioneer Ralph Juergens explained the structure of Tycho Crater on the Moon in electrical terms:

“The visual evidence suggests that triggering electrons for the Tycho discharge were assembled by means of an atmospheric-breakdown process that drew them from numerous distant points in all directions and hauled them over the surface to a common collection point. On the far side of the Moon are several more long-rayed craters, presumably marking sites where much the same thing happened; these, too, are located in highland terrain.”

Earth’s cometary plasma cocoon changes shape and power as electric currents from the Sun bombard our planet. It is sometimes described as a “flag waving” because of somewhat regular oscillations in the field. This means that the Moon does not simply pass through the magnetotail once and briefly, but that electric charges will brush the surface several times during each monthly encounter.

Stephen Smith