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The Lunar Surface: A Dusty Plasma Laboratory

Plasmas with macroscopic charge carriers are the most common form of laboratory, space and industrial plasmas. These complex (dusty) plasmas are of great interest in basic plasma physics, space and planetary sciences, and industrial applications.

The Moon’s exposure to solar wind, UV radiation, magnetospheric plasmas, and meteoroid impacts results in a time-dependent environment that is well described as a natural dusty plasma laboratory. The charging, possible subsequent mobilization, and transport of fine lunar dust have remained a controversial issue since the Apollo era, and have been suggested to lead to the formation of a ‘dust exosphere.’ Similar processes are also expected to shape the surfaces of all airless bodies in the solar system.

This talk will start with a brief introduction to the physics of dusty plasmas and report on the recent advances in laboratory experiments, the development of supporting computer simulations, and the status of the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) onboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Mission. LADEE is scheduled to be launched on 9/6/2013, just 2 weeks before this talk.