Lunar swirls are intriguing albedo (light reflection) patterns on the moon's surface closely linked to local magnetic anomalies.
Recent research has unveiled compelling evidence of highly mobile regolith on the moon, as highlighted in a study on lunar swirls conducted by a team from the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) under the guidance of Deborah Domingue.
Lunar swirls are intriguing albedo (light reflection) patterns on the moon’s surface closely linked to local magnetic anomalies. Their formation processes have been a topic of scientific exploration and discussion ever since their discovery. One prevailing theory posits that these patterns result from the surface being shielded from solar wind radiation due to associated magnetic anomalies. Such shielding would render the protected material brighter than materials outside the magnetic field. However, observed spectral properties sometimes diverge from the expected characteristics of shielded materials.
Electrostatically Levitated Lunar Dust, and the Magnetic Field
An alternative theory suggests that electrostatically levitated lunar dust, representing the tiniest segment of lunar dust, is selectively trapped by the magnetic field. Intriguingly, this subset of lunar dust is inherently composed of brighter minerals compared to its larger counterparts, which are less susceptible to electrostatic movement.
Darker dust within the swirls possesses minute inclusions of nanometer-scale iron, believed to be magnetically separated and settled in the swirls’ darker zones. Curiously, solar wind radiation emerges as a plausible method for producing this minuscule iron.
The Texture of the Moon’s Surface
To unravel the mystery behind lunar swirls, PSI researchers decided to delve into the texture of the moon’s surface. This involves assessing soil’s grain-to-grain roughness, porosity, and internal grain structures, such as inclusions. The team used photometric analysis, a technique focused on material light scattering properties and their variations based on the angles of sunlight and observation. The findings revealed that while grain-to-grain roughness was consistent throughout the swirl region, the soil in the dark lanes featured grains of more intricate structures.
Moreover, the study confirmed distinct compositional differences between the bright and dark regions, in line with predictions related to dust collection and segregation.
Deborah Domingue explained, “The evidence points to multiple processes at play in the formation of lunar swirls. While the bright regions appear less radiated, they alone don’t encompass the entirety of the swirls’ characteristics. Additional mechanisms are in action, with the detected textures implying a role for dust collection and segregation.”
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