Future astronauts may zap away annoying, messy Moon dust

If you think sand is annoying, wait until you hear astronauts describe their experiences with Moon dust. The substance is apparently easy to kick up into the environment, causing it to settle all over the place: on suits, in vehicles, and other places it could end up being a problem. How will future astronauts, particularly ones stationed on the lunar surface for long periods of time, deal with this nuisance?

We don't yet know what the final solution to this problem will be, but researchers with the University of Colorado – Boulder have presented a possible solution. Referred to as a 'dustbuster,' the team has published a new study detailing the use of an electron beam to 'zap' Moon dust with low-energy and negatively-charged particles.

The dust, which is officially called regolith, reacts to the electron beam by jumping away from the surface it had settled on, making the potential solution something like the equivalent of canned air used to blast the debris out of a keyboard. In the future, astronauts may use such electron beams to 'dust' the regolith off suits and other items.

The work was inspired by ongoing NASA efforts to return humans to the Moon in a long-term way, as well as reports about regolith from astronauts who have already been there. According to those astronauts, regolith is 'annoying,' difficult to clean up with brushing, smelly, and — the key issue — it is 'sticky' due to its electric charge.

According to the researchers, the type of 'stickiness' regolith has is sort of like the cling a sock may have when freshly pulled from the drier. This is why zapping the lunar dust with negatively-charged particles — a safe activity — causes them to disperse from the surface whereas ordinary brushing doesn't work.

Though research is still necessary and this may not be a final solution for the problem, the study reports success using this method with faux lunar soil created by NASA used on a variety of surfaces like glass.