KEY POINTS

  • Scientists discovered how the Moon gets affected by solar winds
  • Emissions from the Sun can cause Earth's magnetic field to stretch
  • The new discovery could affect future missions to the Moon

Through data collected by NASA’s various missions, scientists were able to uncover how the solar winds hitting Earth could also harm the Moon. According to the scientists, the new discovery could help agencies develop new safety procedures for human missions to the lunar surface.

The study was carried out using the data collected by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer, Cluster and Wind missions, which involved sending spacecraft in the region between the Earth and the Sun. Details of the study were presented in a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

Through the missions’ data, the scientists were able to observe how Earth’s magnetic field reacts when it gets hit by shock waves of solar emissions from the Sun. They discovered that as Earth gets hit by solar winds, the highly charged particles from the Sun interact with the planet’s magnetic field.

During times of intense solar activity, the solar winds could cause Earth’s magnetic field to stretch, leaving the Moon exposed to the powerful emissions from the Sun.

“When these shock waves reach Earth, they have enough pressure to change the shape of the magnetosphere, which is already stretched into a windsock-like shape due to the pressure from solar wind particles,” NASA explained in a statement. “If the wind after the shock wave is strong enough, it can cause enough movement to expose the Moon to the solar wind, even when it’s directly behind Earth.”

It was previously believed that Earth’s magnetic field shields the Moon from solar winds. However, as indicated in the new study, the lunar surface can get exposed to the harmful effects of the Sun’s high-energy emissions.

According to NASA, the new study provides valuable information regarding the safety precautions that agencies need to implement for missions to the Moon. Since NASA is currently planning on launching a new lunar mission under its Artemis spaceflight program, the agency will most likely implement new procedures to ensure the safety of its astronauts and equipment.

“As NASA’s Artemis program prepares to send new science and technology experiments ahead of a human return, it is essential to understand the area’s particle radiation environment, which can potentially damage electronics and humans during storm events,” the agency stated.

Earth's magnetic field Artist's concept of how the Moon gets exposed to solar winds as Earth's magnetic field stretches. Photo: NASA