In a recent article from NYTimes, CSP’s Senior Research Scientist Jeffrey Baumgardner discusses the comet-like tail of the Moon.
An animation shows how sodium atoms ejected from the lunar surface are affected by the moon’s orbit around planet Earth. Video by James O’Donoghue/@PhysicsJ, based on simulations by Jody K. Wilson.
Carl Sagan once said that Earth is but a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” He would probably be thrilled to know that, around the time of a new moon, Earth is a speck of dust suspended in a moon tail.
The moon, lacking an atmosphere to shield it, is constantly under attack. When meteorites bombard its volcanic surface, sodium atoms fly high into orbit. The sun’s photons collide with the sodium atoms, effectively pushing them away from the sun and creating a tail-like structure flowing downstream from the moon.
“It makes the moon sort of look like a comet,” said Jeffrey Baumgardner, a senior research scientist at Boston University’s Center for Space Physics. “It has a stream of stuff coming off it.”
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