Sci-fi fantasies have long predicted that we might live on the moon. But while the lack of atmosphere poses a problem for lunar living, there may be an even bigger sticking point: new research suggests that the moon's surface is itself toxic to humans.
For obvious reasons, long-term human exposure to the moon's environment has never been studied in depth. But now a team of international research scientists has investigated samples of moon dust to predict its long-term effects on our health. Turns out moon dust is super-fine and sharp-edged — and they're the biggest problem for human health.
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.
But the hard, glassy shell of lunar dust — a result of rock vaporization by meteorite impacts — makes it psychically damaging, too. The researchers point out that, as a result, moon dust could easily cause extreme skin irritation during prolonged exposure. Plus, aided by the microgravity, it could easily drift towards the face, meaning it wouldn't take long before the cornea was scratched by lunar particles if the eyes weren't covered.
Of course, all these results are hypothetical: we'd need to be living in some kind of moon base to wander around directly exposed to lunar dirt. To understand the true damage moon dust could cause would, of course, require tests to be performed on-site — but in the meantime, at least we know we won't be frolicking around the moon in our beach wear anytime soon. [Toxicity of Lunar Dust via Universe Today]
Image: lrargerich under Creative Commons license