Lightning flashes in a roiling cloud of ash over Mt. Redoubt on March 27th. Particles of ash rubbing together in the cloud (like socks rubbing against carpet) are partly responsible for the buildup of electrostatic charge. Photo credit and copyright: Bretwood Higman, Ground Truth Trekking. [click for more]

Alaskans living on the moon, part 2

“Mount Redoubt is giving Alaskans a taste of life on the Moon!”, Author: Dauna Coulter NASA News

“]Lightning flashes in a roiling cloud of ash over Mt. Redoubt on March 27th. Particles of ash rubbing together in the cloud (like socks rubbing against carpet) are partly responsible for the buildup of electrostatic charge. Photo credit and copyright: Bretwood Higman, Ground Truth Trekking. [click for more]
Lightning flashes in a roiling cloud of ash over Mt. Redoubt on March 27th. Particles of ash rubbing together in the cloud (like socks rubbing against carpet) are partly responsible for the buildup of electrostatic charge. Photo credit and copyright: Bretwood Higman, Ground Truth Trekking. [click for more

Continued from NASA News Part One

Back in Alaska, Miller relates what happened when Mt. Redoubt erupted just last week: “We lost three seismic stations. The one nearest the volcano was fried – probably due to lightning. When you have a tremendous and powerful explosion of ash, the violent movement of all the ash particles generates static electricity and therefore lightning.”

Dust particles on the Moon are also electrified, at least in part, by the buffeting of the solar wind. Earth is protected from the solar wind by our planet’s magnetic field, but the Moon has no global magnetic field to ward off charged particles from the sun. Free electrons in the solar wind interact with grains of moon dust and, in effect, “charge them up.” The electrostatic charges cause moon dust to cling tenaciously to everything.

Including your lungs…

Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan suffered from the first recorded case of extraterrestrial hay fever. He was taking off his spacesuit after a moonwalk and the air was filling up with dust knocked off the surface of the suit. “It came on pretty fast,” he radioed Houston with a stuffy-nose twang. “I had a significant reaction to the dust,” he later recalled. “My turbinates (cartilage plates in the walls of the nasal chambers) became swollen.”

“]An Alaskan moonscape. "Highlights of gray volcanic ash around the snow remind me of craters on the Moon," says photographer Michelle Cosper of Girdwood, Alaska. [Larger image]
An Alaskan moonscape. "Highlights of gray volcanic ash around the snow remind me of craters on the Moon," says photographer Michelle Cosper of Girdwood, Alaska. [Larger image
Some researchers believe sustained breathing of moon dust could be dangerous. The sharp-edged grains are able to make tiny cuts in flesh, and they could easily become stuck in lung tissue. Ash presents a similar hazard.

“With volcanic ash, people are advised to wear particle masks or stay indoors,” notes Miller. “It’s not poisonous, but people with asthma or emphysema can have problems if they inhale it. And people who wear contacts have to take their contacts out.”

Alaska resident Michelle Cosper is one of the people suffering. “My throat is sore and stingy, and it smells vaguely like sulfur outside,” she reports from the town of Girdwood, which has received a coating of ash from Redoubt’s recent eruptions. “We aren’t supposed to walk our dogs or go outside for any other reason unnecessarily. Even local newscasters are wearing face masks.”

Moon dust and volcanic ash cause many of the same troubles—but that does not mean they are the same thing. Volcanic ash comes from active volcanoes, something the Moon does not have. Liquid rock decompresses and explodes from the volcano’s mouth, producing a mixture of ‘foamed’ glass and micro- and mini-crystals. Moon dust, on the other hand, is created by meteoroids. Space rocks hit the Moon’s surface at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour, fusing topsoil into glass and shattering the same into tiny sharp-edged pieces.

NASA is returning to the Moon in ~2020. Thanks to Mt. Redoubt, Alaskans are already getting a taste of the new frontier.

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