Lunar swirls are bright, looping streaks on the Moon. Their origin is unknown, but since they are associated with magnetic anomalies on the Moon's surface, they are one of our solar system's best laboratories for studying complex electromagnetic effects.
- On the nightside of the Moon, the shortage of positive ions from the sun can cause a dangerous buildup of negative static electricity on an astronaut's suit or robotic equipment. The magnetic field's strength in these places may be exploited to protect astronauts and equipment during surface operations.
- Since the magnetic fields of lunar swirls can deflect charged particles, they are protected from the solar wind and weathered almost exclusively by micrometeorites. If the swirls have been protecting the surface of the Moon since early in its existence, they would be a prime location to sample the ancient solar wind.
- Swirls are also ideal places to study the presence of water on the Moon's surface, and perhaps even to extract it. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper measured a global layer of water only a few molecules thick and found swirls to be depleted of water relative to their surroundings.
The bottom line: A mission to a lunar swirl will help answer questions about solar wind, space weathering, and electromagnetic interactions of interest to both planetary science and the broader scientific community.
Other voices in the conversation:
- Debra Needham, planetary scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center: The Moon can help reveal our solar system's history
- Clive Neal, lunar scientist and engineering professor at Notre Dame: Lunar resources ready and waiting
- Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society: The moon is one step. Mars is the prize.