Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Edge of Known Space (part 4)

While we probably associate static electricity with scuffing our shoes around on our grandparent's old carpeted floors so we can zap an unsuspecting little brother or sister in the ear with a miniature lightning bolt, we otherwise don't think much about static electricity here on Earth, except maybe when we are handling sensitive electronics and want to avoid frying the expensive gear. Space, however, is a very dry environment, so without moisture to carry off electrons, static electricity is something that space explorers are very likely to encounter on a regular basis. Already, NASA is extremely concerned about the static electricity situation on Mars—they engineered reverse lightning rods for the Mars Pathfinder to deal with the problem. Walking on the surface of Mars or our moon can generate enough static electricity to short-circuit crucial life-preserving equipment, including the suits that protect astronauts from the vacuum of space. We already learned this week how moon dust can be a threat, a static electricity will worsen that situation for explorers. Solar storms can also generate tremendous amounts of static electricity, and the results can be akin to an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) bomb being dropped—space explorers are in serious trouble if their sensitive space equipment gets zapped!

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