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The Moon's mysterious dust

I'd never seen this NASA photo of Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan before. It was taken after one of his three moonwalks with crewmate Harrison Schmitt, though you could be forgiven for assuming that Cernan just came in from a shift at the coal mine rather than a jaunt across the surface of the Moon.

At the Life, Unbounded blog, Caleb Scharf writes about the Moon dust you can see clinging to Cernan, describing it as sticky, abrasive, and gunpowder-scented. It's also not something we totally understand yet — at least, we still have a lot to learn about how Moon dust behaves on the Moon. On September 6, NASA is launching a satellite to study this very phenomenon. One thing it might figure out: Whether electrically charged particles of Moon dust might form an extremely thin and vanishingly temporary "atmosphere" that hovers and falls over the Moon's surface.

More about how the Sahara creates the Amazon

On Monday, I posted about an incredibly fascinating study linking the minerals that fertilize the Amazon rainforest to a specific corner of the Sahara desert in the country of Chad. That lake of sand—once an actual lake the size of California—is what keeps the Amazon green and verdant.

The interesting thing is that the study is actually not anything new. It came out in 2006. I heard about it from science writer Colin Schultz. Earlier this week, Colin went on News Talk 610 CKTB out of Niagara Falls, Ontario, to talk about how he stumbled across the study and why it's important far beyond simply connecting the desert and the jungle.

The interview delves into the subject in a lot more depth. In fact, it's a great demonstration of how reading a single research paper can be interesting, but doesn't necessarily give you the full picture of what's actually going on in science. Turns out, what we know about how dust travels to the Amazon has important implications for how we think about climate change and geoengineering. Also great: Colin comparing the volume of dust traveling from the Sahara to the volume of several Honda Civics. It's short, and very much worth listening to.

You can follow Colin Schultz on Twitter. BTW: He'd like you to know that when he says "bioengineers" in the interview, he means "geoengineers".

Read More:
A 2010 Nature News article on the connection between the Sahara and the Amazon.
• Geophysical Research Letters on changes in dust transport over time.
• NASA on the way that dust affects climate.
A 2010 follow-up to the 2006 paper by the same group of researchers. Colin says that this gets more into the details of how the dust becomes an important fertilizer in the Amazon.

Image: rainforest, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tauntingpanda's photostream

Lubbock, Texas dust storm similar to Dust Bowl-era events

Whenever you see a dust cloud, there's an almost instinctual reflex to start talking about The Grapes of Wrath. It's natural. But it's often misplaced. Your average cloud of dirt is less apocalyptic than the dust storms that ripped across the Central Plains of the United States during the 1930s. They can also have different underlying causes.

But the dust storm that hit Lubbock, Texas, earlier this week can legitimately be called Dust Bowl-esque, according to the National Weather Service. That's the Lubbock storm on the right in the image above ... and a 1930s dust storm on the left.

A storm system passing out of the Rockies into the southern plains sent a cold front racing south through the Texas Panhandle and across the South Plains and Rolling Plains late Monday afternoon and evening. Ahead of the front, temperatures were unusually warm, with highs mainly in the upper 80s to lower 90s, and even 96 degrees out at Aspermont. Temperatures dropped quickly behind the front. The high at Amarillo was only 72 degrees. As the front moved south, more and more dirt was lofted by the front until a well-defined "Haboob" (an Arabic term for intense dust storm) developed along the front.

The intense dust storm drew some comparisons to the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. The likeness may not be so farfetched as the region is mired in an exceptional drought, as was the case back in the Dirty Thirties. In fact, 2011 is on pace to shatter the record for the driest year in recorded history for both Lubbock and Childress. In addition, like many of the iconic pictures of rolling dust storms in the 30s, the haboob on the 17th was also caused by a strong cold front.

You are now free to correct anyone who accuses of hyperbole when describing the Lubbock dust storm.

Via Christine Gorman