With the moon as the most eye-catching body in the nocturnal sky and the primary cause of an unseen pull that creates ocean tides, many primeval cultures thought it could also affect our health or state of mind thus the word "lunacy" has its origin in this belief. Now, an aggregate of spacecraft and computer simulations is introducing the idea that the moon does indeed have a far-reaching, unobservable influence, but not on us, on the sun, or more specifically, the solar wind.
The solar wind is a slender stream of electrically conducting gas called plasma that's constantly blown off the surface of the sun in all directions at around a million miles per hour. When a particularly speedy, compressed or unsettled solar wind collides with the Earth's magnetic field, it can produce magnetic and radiation storms that are capable of interrupting satellites, power grids and communication systems and also cause the light shows that we call the northern and southern lights. The magnetic "bubble" surrounding Earth also pushes back on the solar wind, creating a bow shock tens of thousands of miles across over the day side of Earth, where the solar wind slams into the magnetic field and abruptly slows from supersonic to subsonic speed.
Unlike Earth, the moon is not surrounded by a global magnetic field. Recently, however, an international fleet of lunar-orbiting spacecraft has detected signs of the moon's presence "upstream" in the solar wind.
According to NASA, "These phenomena have been seen as far as 6,200 miles above the moon and generate a kind of turbulence in the solar wind ahead of the moon, causing subtle changes in the solar wind's direction and density. The electron beams were first seen by NASA's Lunar Prospector mission, while the Japanese Kaguya mission, the Chinese Chang'e mission, and the Indian Chandrayaan mission all saw ion plumes at low altitudes. NASA's ARTEMIS mission has now also seen both the electron beams and the ion plumes, plus newly identified electromagnetic and electrostatic waves in the plasma ahead of the moon, at much greater distances from the moon.
Computer simulations help explain these observations by showing that a complex electric field near the lunar surface is generated by sunlight and the flow of the solar wind. The simulation reveals this electric field can generate electron beams by accelerating electrons blasted from surface material by solar ultraviolet light. Also, related simulations show that when ions in the solar wind collide with ancient, "fossil" magnetic fields in certain areas on the lunar surface, they are reflected back into space in a diffused, fountain-shaped pattern. These ions are mostly the positively charged ions (protons) of hydrogen atoms, the most common element in the solar wind."
You can leave your comments, as well as be part of a community with discussions on any astronomy subject, such as light pollution, when you join AccuWeather's Astronomy Facebook fan page by clicking here.
We are now well over 3,500 likes on Facebook. Please tell your friends about this Facebook page and blog and have them weigh in on some exciting issues. We encourage open discussion and will never criticize any idea, and no negative conversation will be allowed. We are really trying to make this Facebook page THE place to go to for any astronomy news or discussion and your help would be GREATLY appreciated!
Solar Spring is underway. Most of the U.S. will gain 15-20 minutes of daylight per week for the next three months.
Check sky conditions for Saturday morning right before sunrise when the crescent moon teams up with Mercury and Venus to form a celestial triangle.
As the moon fades to a thin crescent by Saturday, it will be a beautiful sight in the predawn sky as it moves by the planets. Check your sky conditions forecast here for Saturday, when the thin crescent moon joins Mercury and Venus.
The moon passes through the string of morning planets this week. It will be near Mars Monday at its first quarter phase. By Saturday morning, it will be a very thin crescent on the horizon near Mercury and Venus.
Jupiter, one of the brightest objects in the sky, rises alongside the moon tonight. Check out this impressive show and check the viewing conditions for your location. Also, read more about the planet and its role in the five visible morning planets.
Check out sky cover conditions for viewing Comet Catalina as it is as close to earth this weekend as it will very be. Plus, a look at Europe and Asia viewing conditions.