Moon Dust Is Seriously Harmful To Humans

Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, on the moon.Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 17 mission.

Photo: NASA

You may want to think twice before claiming yourself a slice of moon property. New research suggests that particles of moon dust are so small and jagged they are likely toxic to humans, and could even cause cancer.No one has studied how long term exposure to the lunar environment would impact humans, probably because the longest time a person has spent on the surface of the moon is about 22 hours, during the Apollo 17 mission. And they were in space suits. 

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.

As Jamie Condliffe of Gizmodo sums their findings:

First, when it gets into the lungs it can cause all kinds of health issues. At best, inhalation of lunar particles can cause airway inflammation — at worst, it could dramatically increase the risks of various cancers. The researchers compare the dust to pollutants on Earth like asbestos and volcanic ash, which are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. But moon dust may be even more dangerous because of its long-term exposure to proton and UV radiation on the poorly protected surface of the moon.

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 could scratch the eye’s cornea.

While we aren’t likely to be rolling around naked in moon dust anytime soon, a moon base might collect the stuff if lunar citizens are trekking around outside of their sheltered habitat. It can also interfere with mechanical parts and space suits.

Some of these lunar ailments were even seen in the astronauts that went on the Apollo Moon missions. It caused “lunar hay fever” as well as problems with space suits — including impairing the astronauts ability to move as it gummed up the joints of their suits.

“The dust was so abrasive that it actually wore through three layers of Kevlar-like material on Jack [Schmitt]’s boot,” lunar researcher Larry Taylor, of the University of Tennessee, said in a statement from the Soil Science Society of America in 2008.

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