Moon dust may be toxic, say scientists

Moon dust may be toxic, say scientists

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If you have any plans to build a lunar base, you may want to think again.

A newly published study finds that moon dust may be harmful to your health. In a new study, published June 8 in the journal Planetary and Space Science, researchers took a look at samples of moon dust to see how toxic it might be to humans.

Citing growing interest in traveling to the moon, scientists say that a recent experiment shows the lunar dust could

“Dust exposure and inhalation could have a range of toxic effects on human lunar explorers, especially if longer exposure times become the norm during future manned exploration missions. There is therefore a need to assess the risks to health,” say researchers.

The unique properties of lunar dust could make it more hazardous than any similar products here on Earth, say researchers. Moon dust would also injure skin and eyes if left unprotected, the researchers found. It’s hard glassy shell, which forms when the rock vaporizes after being hit by a meteorite, could cause extreme skin irritation and leave eyes scratch.

“Unique features of actual lunar dust (described in more detail in section 3), resulting from its formation by (micro)meteoroid impacts and its extended radiation exposure in the absence of oxygen and humidity, could lead to toxic effects significantly exceeding those of simulants made from Earth materials,” write researchers. “At present, the formation, composition and physical properties of lunar dust remain incompletely characterised with regard to human health.”

The study is the first to examine the long-term consequences of moon dust. Researchers from the University of Tennessee, noted the idea for the study was the result of complaints from astronauts involved with early space missions.

“The Apollo astronauts reported undesirable effects affecting the skin, eyes and airways that could be related to exposure to the dust that had adhered to their space suits during their extravehicular activities and was subsequently brought into their spacecraft.”

Humans have only spent, at max, two or three days on the moon in total, and this time has often been spent in spaceships or airtight suits, however, a number of recent private companies have begun plans to return to the moon.

By far the most harmful effects of lunar dust would come from inhalation of the particulates. Even though lunar explorers would be wearing protective gear, suit-bound dust can easily make its way back into living and working areas — as Apollo astronauts quickly discovered.

Once inside the lungs the super-fine, sharp-edged lunar dust could cause a slew of health issues, affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular system and causing anything from airway inflammation to increased risks of various cancers.

Similar to pollutants encountered on Earth, such as asbestos and volcanic ash, lunar dust particles are likely small enough to penetrate deep within lung tissues, and may be made even more dangerous by their long-term exposure to proton and UV radiation, said researchers. In addition, the research suggests a microgravity environment may only serve to ease the transportation of dust particles throughout the lungs.

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