The researchers have suggested using an electron beam, or stream of negatively-charged, low-energy particles, to blow the troublesome dust off of surfaces. The technology is based on the repulsive forces between electrons inside microcavities formed between dust particles and substantial negative charges on the surrounding particles.
This is basically the reverse of the process that makes dust stick to things, akin to rubbing a balloon on your hair and watching it stick afterward.
"The charges become so large that they repel each other, and then dust ejects off of the surface," Xu Wang, a research associate in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder, said in a Monday press release, noting that lunar dust is “really annoying.”
“Lunar dust sticks to all kinds of surfaces - spacesuits, solar panels, helmets - and it can damage equipment,” Xu noted.
In their study, the researchers used the electron beam to successfully dust inside a vacuum chamber.
“It literally jumps off,” explained lead author Benjamin Farr. However, even though the method cleaned dusty surfaces by an average of around 75% to 85%, there is still room for improvement.
"It worked pretty well, but not well enough that we're done," Farr explained.
Although it will be awhile before real-life astronauts will be able to use the technology for daily clean up, the study’s results suggest that electron-beam dustbusters may become a frequently used object on the moon.
A number of countries are in the race to return humans to the moon in the coming years, with US President Donald Trump saying he wants to see such a mission by NASA astronauts by 2024, when his second term would end if he is reelected in the upcoming November elections.