Study finds likely cause of puzzling moon cloud

Who Knew Moon Dust Was So Important?

A new study found that the moon sports a large, permanent cloud, even though it has no atmosphere, and the dust is most likely being kicked up by a constant stream of tiny particles hitting the surface.

The research used data from NASA's LADEE mission, which studied the moon from a low-altitude orbit. It found that the cloud got thicker when the moon went through, say, a comet's path or a meteor shower.

The moon has been known to have some kind of cloud ever since the Apollo missions in the '60s and '70s. Astronauts saw a faint glow on the horizon, which wouldn't happen without either an atmosphere or a fairly dense cloud of dust close to the ground.

The new findings don't actually solve that mystery. The particle impact theory only explains why the moon would have a large, thin cloud. If it also has a short, dense one, there would have to be some other phenomenon at work.

22 PHOTOS
CNC Lunar Eclipse/Blood Moons of the 2014/2015 tetrad
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Study finds likely cause of puzzling moon cloud
In this composite photograph the moon during various phases at the begining, middle and end of a total lunar eclipse April 15, 2014 as seen from Magdalena, New Mexico. While all of the event is visible from North and South America, sky watchers in northern and and eastern Europe, eastern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia will be out of luck, according to NASA. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - APRIL 04: Sky-watchers got a glimpse of the Blood Moon in the shortest eclipse of the century as it sets behind Pikes Peak April 4, 2015 in Colorado Springs. The top edge of the eclipsed moon should appear much brighter than the rest of the orb.(Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
SURABAYA, INDONESIA - OCTOBER 08: The moon is seen during a total lunar eclipse on October 8, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. A total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon because of the red color that is cast upon it by light refracting in Earth's atmosphere. The lunar eclipse, resulting in the moon appearing to be an orange-red colour is due to a perfect alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon, otherwise known as syzygy, and this is the first of four in a rare Tetrad of eclipses over the next two years. (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 4: The moon is seen behind downtown high-rise buildings during the shortest total lunar eclipse of the century before dawn on April 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The eclipse, with the moment of totality lasting only about five minutes, is particularly brief because the moon is passing through the upper part of the Earth's circular shadow rather than across the middle, which would have made it last longer. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
NORTH SUMATRA, INDONESIA - APRIL 04: The moon is seen as it emerges from a total lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015 in Kuta Tengah Villages in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia. A total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon because of the red color that is cast upon it by light refracting in Earth's atmosphere. (Photo by Y. T. Haryono /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 04: A blood red moon lights up the sky during a total lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. The shortest total lunar eclipse, or 'blood moon', of the century will last just a few minutes. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
A combination of 10 pictures shows the moon in different stages of a total lunar eclipse seen from the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife on April 15, 2014. People in most of north and south America should be able to witness this year's first total lunar eclipse, which will cause a 'blood moon' and is the first of four in a rare Tetrad of eclipses over the next two years. AFP PHOTO/ DESIREE MARTIN (Photo credit should read DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A total lunar eclipse is seen behind a ferris wheel in Tokyo, on October 8, 2014. In Tokyo's Roppongi fashion and entertainment district, enthusiasts were planning to perform yoga exercises under the blood moon. Many others had climbed atop the city's skyscrapers to view the sky. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 07: The moon rises behind the turbines of Whitelees Windfarm on October 7, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.Whitelee Wind farm is the largest windfarm in the UK. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A lunar eclipse is seen in Tokyo on October 8, 2014. In Tokyo's Roppongi fashion and entertainment district, enthusiasts were planning to perform yoga exercises under the blood moon. Many others had climbed atop the city's skyscrapers to view the sky. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
The moon is seen during a total lunar eclipse from the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife on April 15, 2014. People in most of north and south America should be able to witness this year's first total lunar eclipse, which will cause a 'blood moon' and is the first of four in a rare Tetrad of eclipses over the next two years. AFP PHOTO/ DESIREE MARTIN (Photo credit should read DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
The moon is pictured over the El Salvador del Mundo Monument in San Salvador, El Salvador on April 15, 2014 as a lunar eclipse begins across the Americas. The entire event was to be visible from North and South America, but sky watchers in northern and and eastern Europe, eastern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia were out of luck, according to US space agency NASA. AFP PHOTO/ Jose CABEZAS (Photo credit should read JOSE CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images)
The moon appears to be to have an orange-red hue as the earth's shadow covers the moon during a total lunar eclipse, in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California October 8, 2014. A total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon because of the red color that is cast upon it by light refracting in Earth's atmosphere. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 15: A man takes a photo of his children as the 'Blood Moon' rises over the water in Wlliamstown on April 15, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. The Lunar Eclipse, resulting in the Moon appearing to be an orange-red colour is due to a perfect alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon, otherwise known as 'syzygy'. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
NAGOYA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) The moon is seen by the clocktower at Nagoya University lit by blue LED on October 9, 2014 in Nagoya, Japan. A total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon because of the red color that is cast upon it by light refracting in Earth's atmosphere. The lunar eclipse, resulting in the moon appearing to be an orange-red colour is due to a perfect alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon, otherwise known as syzygy, and this is the first of four in a rare Tetrad of eclipses over the next two years. Professors at Nagoya University just received Nobel Physic Prize for inventing blue LED. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 08: The earth's shadow starts to cover the full moon during a lunar eclipse October 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. A total lunar eclipse was visible at moonset for most of North America. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 8: A religious cross is seen as the moon is illuminated by sunlight reflected off the Earth during a total lunar eclipse, one of four so-called 'blood moons', on October 8, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The first in the current tetrad of blood moons fell on Passover and the current eclipse occurs on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the fifth day after Yom Kippur, leading some religious people to believe that it is a prophetic sign of the end times of civilization. This blood moon appears 5.3% larger than the last one on April 15 because it occurs right after the perigee, the closest point in its orbit to the Earth. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 8: The moon is illuminated by sunlight reflected off the Earth during a total lunar eclipse, one of four so-called 'blood moons', on October 8, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The first in the current tetrad of blood moons fell on Passover and the current eclipse occurs on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the fifth day after Yom Kippur, leading some religious people to believe that it is a prophetic sign of the end times of civilization. This blood moon appears 5.3% larger than the last one on April 15 because it occurs right after the perigee, the closest point in its orbit to the Earth. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A plane flies before the moon at the beginning of a total lunar eclipse in Yokkaichi, central Japan, on October 8, 2014. In Tokyo's Roppongi fashion and entertainment district, enthusiasts were planning to perform yoga exercises under the blood moon. Many others had climbed atop the city's skyscrapers to view the sky. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
A lunar eclipse is seen taking place from Yokkaichi, central Japan, on October 8, 2014. In Tokyo's Roppongi fashion and entertainment district, enthusiasts were planning to perform yoga exercises under the blood moon. Many others had climbed atop the city's skyscrapers to view the sky. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
The moon is seen in the time around a total lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014 in Montevideo, Uruguay. People in most of North and South America were able to witness this year's first total lunar eclipse, which caused a 'blood moon' and was the first of four in a rare Tetrad of eclipses over the next two years. AFP PHOTO/MARIANA SUAREZ (Photo credit should read MARIANA SUAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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All of this sort of underlines an interesting fact about space exploration: dust is a big deal, and understanding dust could be the key to successfully colonizing other planets.

Lunar dust is one of the factors making permanent moon bases a distant dream. NASA describes it as an abrasive, clingy threat, that can be contaminated with radiation, can be toxic, can build up static electricity and, some of the early astronaut photos show, it gets everywhere. They also say it smells like gunpowder.

Dust shuts down Mars rovers by coating their solar panels. It gets on spacesuit visors and limits visibility. It can even clog sensitive equipment if it's allowed to float around inside the spacecraft. You can see why it's a big deal.

Sadly for early astronauts, the dust will eventually erase all of the human footprints on the moon's surface — unless we go make some new ones, that is.

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