Acoustic levitation ... on Mars!


Last week's Saturday Morning Science Experiment was all about acoustic levitation, using sound waves to create high pressure areas that can move objects. Today, Wired has a story up about how that phenomenon could be used to help astro-colonists deal with pesky space dust on Mars and the Moon.

On the moon, there's no atmosphere and no water, so the dust particles don't get moved around, worn down and rounded like they do on Earth. Consequently, dust kicked up by rovers and astronauts is "very abrasive and sharp, like freshly broken glass," said University of Colorado Boulder physicist Zoltan Sternovsky, who was not involved in the study. Electrostatic charging from solar winds and UV radiation on the Moon makes this sharp dust cling to everything, including astronaut suits where it can work its way through the glove air locks. It also sticks to the solar panels that power rovers and other instruments. On Mars, which has a thin atmosphere, dust devils scour the surface and keep the soil from being as sharp, but it's still got plenty of static cling.

Acoustic levitation could remove the dust from space suits and equipment, once they've been brought back inside a space station, or other pressurized environment—kind of like an interstellar car wash.

Wired: Stereo Speakers Can Levitate Dust For Mars Colonists

Image courtesy Flickr user x-ray delta one, via CC


  1. Well, I don’t give a hoot about Mar colonization or acoustic levitation, I just wanna live in the house in the illustration. Though I hope the glass polarizes, otherwise it’d be a space-age sweat lodge.

  2. “Buzz” Aldrin from Life Magazine, Aug 22, 1969:

    “Odor is very subjective, but to me there was a distinct smell to the lunar material, pungent like gunpowder or spent cap-pistol caps. We carted a fair amount of lunar dust back inside the vehicle with us, either on our suits and boots or on the conveyor system we used to get boxes back inside. We noticed the odor right away.

    Then the particles started finding little homes for themselves in the flooring or the suits, rubbing up against things. Once we lifted off again and were in zero gravity we expected to see these particles emerge and float around. We didn’t exactly expect a dust storm, but we certainty expected a considerable amount of it floating up from the floor and out of nooks and crannies. Surprisingly, it never did. We were able to go ahead and take off our helmets and gloves without worrying about getting dust in our eyes.”

    BTW – the conveyor system was a glorified clothesline pulley and there was a considerable amount of worry after the landing that the sharp glassine dust had lodged in their lungs.

  3. OR as an ingenious way to murder someone by shaking their body to pieces!
    [Crazed robot with pleasant voice]: I’m sorry, Dave; you must stand still while your suit is cleaned. Let me help by restraining you.
    Parts of this idea may have been used before.

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