Paradigm shifts about dust on the Moon: From Apollo 11 to Chang'e-4

B. J. O'Brien

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Strategic purposes of this DAP-2017 report are to update our DAP-2010 report on movements of inescapable fine lunar dust, to summarise key new measurements and to assist rigorous focus.

Lunar dust is defined here in two sciences, Apollo dust and Ejecta dust, to end several confusions. The Kuhn Cycle is introduced to stimulate progression of a science about movements of Apollo dust which lacks an agreed paradigm to supply puzzles for scientists to solve and tools for their solution. We populate the cycle with two paradigm shifts. The first was serendipitous invention in 1966 of the Apollo Dust Detector Experiment (DDE), 3 orthogonal solar cells each with a thermometer, which on Apollo 12 measured cause and effect, collective movements of billions to trillions of low-energy Apollo dust particles and changes in temperature they cause. In contrast, Apollo 17 LEAM and LADEE LDEX experiments follow traditions to measure impacts of high-velocity Ejecta dust particles, one by one.

In 2015, Apollo 12 DDE discoveries of sunrise-driven storms of Apollo dust stimulated a measurement-based 5 step model of dust transport at astronaut waist height. The discoveries solve (i) 50-year-old mysteries of Horizon Glow, (ii) 30-year-old uncertainties about levitated dust, (iii) processes leading to lunar surfaces being smooth and (iv) immobilisation of the Change-3 lunar rover Yutu in 2014 after its first sunrise. The IAC-2017 Website Abstract of a withdrawn Chang'e-3 presentation may support our views that sunrise-mobilised dust caused immobilisation of Yutu.

A precursor to a second paradigm shift was May 2016 announced revision of Chang'e-4 scientific priorities. Using Kuhn terminology of scientific progress, a second shift would follow our "revolution" in 2015 that sunrise driven dust storms caused the 2014 "crisis" of immobilisation of Chang'e-3 lunar rover Yutu. No such sequence occurred previously with lunar dust. Measurement-based evidence from Apollo 11 to Change-3 confirms that Apollo dust is the major surface problem for risk management plans of lunar expeditions.

As of 1 February 2018, a second paradigm change awaits transparent authoritative Ground truth measurements by Chang'e-4 or other relevant dust detectors to compare with Apollo 12 DDE measurements. Re-examination of risk management of effects of Apollo dust is essential for international expeditions including a Moon Village and Google Lunar XMedal competitors.

Future DAPs could refine a third paradigm shift for Moon, moving from the past and present Earth-centric cultures of an inert Moon to cultures with visions of Moon as an active and close Extraterrestrial neighbour, because its outermost sunlit two cm of dusty plasmas are a variable soup of lunar and Extraterrestrial plasmas. An emphasis on its research seems a neat fit with the Directive of President Trump on 11 December 2017 to "Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners" to "lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization". It would also be measurement-based now thus less costly, more safe and quicker than any human visit to Mars.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-56
Number of pages10
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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