The Evil Lunar Dust

By Anupum Pant

Space exploration is a tough job. Besides a myriad of challenges that have to be dealt with, space equipment and astronauts travelling to places like the moon or mars, have to deal with a peculiarly wicked foe – The dust.

This isn’t the kind of normal dust we deal with here on earth. ‘Downright evil’ is the phrase that describes the dust on moon! We may not realize it, but lunar dust is a filthy thing and causes a lot of problems. Of course, the dust on mars is no better.

Back in 1972

For instance, let us see how moon dust makes things complicated for engineers and astronauts.

Most of the upper surface of the moon is covered with a mixture of loose material comprising of dust, soil, rocks and pebbles (and other random stuff too). Normally, at places, this layer of mixture ranges from 4 to 6 meters in thickness.

The fine part of this mixture is called the lunar soil and is significantly different from the soil found on earth. It is present almost everywhere on the surface of the moon and is a result of breaking of rocks into small particles by meteorite and micrometeorite impacts; also there is no wind and rain to soften the pieces. This is the part of that loose stuff which is known for causing immense troubles.

The dust is super-fine and extremely hard. You can think of it as collection of little shards of glass. Despite being completely dry, it sticks to everything it touches and as it is super-fine, it can get into tiny creases. If inhaled, it can be toxic; like millions of tiny sharp shards piercing into the inner walls of your respiratory system. A tiny amount of it can eventually kill a full grown man.

Back in 1972, the Apollo 17’s crew learnt this as soon as they stepped out. The dust started clogging their air vents and started dropping the pressure. When returning to their space capsule, Jack Schmitt and Eugene Cernan forgot to brush off the dust. They were stuck with it for the whole time during their journey back home. Some of the dust went airborne in the craft and Schmitt started complaining of congestion. Fortunately, the amount was too small to hurt them a lot. Soon the symptoms subsided and space agencies learnt a lesson – Find a way to deal with the lunar dust.

On mars: Dust on mars can travel places due to dust storms and cause more problems.


Scientists at NASA found a great way to deal with this dust using an electric zap. They were able to develop electrical fields which can clear about 99% of the dust from the equipment. These dust shields will be tried on in the year 2016.

Largest Meteorite Left No Crater On Earth

By Anupum Pant

You should know: Meteor vs. Meteoroid vs. Meteorite

Meteor: The streak of light that we see in the sky is “Meteor”. When debris enters earth and gets burned up while entering, it leaves a streak of light. Unlike what is popularly believed, meteor is not the debris itself rather the word “meteor” refers to only the flash of light.

Meteoroid: A meteoroid is a mass that is small – ranging from a kilometer to only a few millimeters in diameter. Most meteoroids that enter the Earth’s atmosphere are so small that they vaporize completely and never reach the planet’s surface.

Meteorite: If the Meteoroid survives and reaches the earth’s surface, it becomes a Meteorite.

Hoba the Meteorite

About 80,000 years back, a ridiculously huge mix of Iron and Nickel entered the earth. It was so large that what was left out of all the burning through the atmosphere, measured 66,000 kg in the end. About half ton of this meteorite has gone to laboratories for research. Even after accounting for losses towards laboratories and vandalism, it is still the largest single mass of natural Iron on the Earth’s surface. It is the largest meteorite ever discovered till date and is called “Hoba”.

This meteorite was discovered by a farmer in Namibia in the year 1920. Since then, due to its mass, it has never been moved. The meteorite and the site has been declared as a national monument by the Namibian government and several tourists visit it every year.

Farmer’s Story: 

One winter as I was hunting at the farm Hoba I noticed a strange rock. I sat down on it. Only its upper part was visible. The rock was black, and all around it was calcareous soil. I scratched the rock with my knife and saw there was a shine beneath the surface. I then chiselled off a piece and took it to the SWA Maatskappy in Grootfontein, whose director established it to be a meteorite.

If that was hardly interesting…

The most puzzling thing about this meteorite is probably not that it belongs to a very rare class of meteorites (Ataxite), but the fact that it has no crater to be seen around it. Normally, a meteorite of this size should have left a crater hundreds of meters wide.

The best theory that explains the absence of any preserved crater around it is that, this piece of rock must have hit the earth’s surface at a very low angle. As a result, it must have skipped on the surface like a flat stone on water surface. And in the end, must have landed at the place where it lies today.