The lunar dust detector experiment. (a) Installation position of lunar dust detector, SQCM was fixed in a temperature-controlled cabinet (TCC) which was mounted on the front-left corner of the Chang’E-3 lander. Solar cell probe (SCP) was located externally on the top of the lander. The vertical heights of SQCM and SCP from the local lunar surface are 190 cm and 205 cm, respectively. (b) Schematic illustration of structure and assembly of SQCM. The field-of-view of SQCM sensor is a cone with a half angle of approximately 75 degrees. The CE-3 lander photograph was taken by panoramic camera onboard the Yutu-1 rover.
Credit: Detian Li, Et al.

China’s Chang’E‐3 lunar lander carried out an on-the-spot study of lunar dust at its landing site in the northern Mare Imbrium.

The lunar lander made a touchdown on December 14, 2013, later unleashing the Yutu-1 rover.

The lander was equipped with a temperature‐controlled sticky quartz crystal microbalance. Using this gear, the results showed that a total deposition mass at a height of 190 centimeters above the lunar surface during 12 lunar daytimes in the northern Mare Imbrium was about 0.0065 mg/cm2, corresponding to an annual deposition rate of ~21.4 μg/cm2 – which is comparable with that of Apollo’s result to some extent, the paper points out.

The research was led by Detian Li and Yi Wang of China’s Lanzhou Institute of Physics, detailed in the research paper – “In Situ Measurements of Lunar Dust at the Chang’E‐3 Landing Site in the Northern Mare Imbrium” – published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Environmental problem

“Lunar dust is regarded as the most crucial environmental problem on the Moon, and related research has crucially important scientific and technological interests,” the paper explains. This type of research is “strategically important for future human and robotic lunar expeditions, and can provide a valuable reference for the design of dust protection for onboard payloads long‐term exposure to the lunar environment.”

This work was unique as it was made on the lunar surface rather than in orbit.

Set of photographs taken during Chang’E-3 landing, taken by the landing camera at different heights before touchdown. (a) A peaceful lunar surface, in this case, the spacecraft was so high that the lunar surface could not be affected by the lander’s engine exhaust; (b, c and d) Display a disturbed lunar surface, especially for (d), where large amounts of lunar dust and debris were stirred up by the lander’s strong engine exhaust.
Credit: Detian Li, Et al.

Detrimental dust

In summary, the paper explains that Apollo astronauts pointed out that “dust is the number one environmental problem on the Moon” and “dust is the number one concern in returning to the Moon.”

“Dust on the lunar surface can be easily levitated and transported by several natural and anthropogenic causes, which can raise several detrimental problems for exploration activities,” Detian and his research colleagues note. “To date, however, the reports about in situ measurements of dust on the lunar near surface are comparatively few.”

To review the entire paper — “In Situ Measurements of Lunar Dust at the Chang’E‐3 Landing Site in the Northern Mare Imbrium” – go to:

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2019JE006054

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