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Activity

Moon regolith

Summary: 
Simulate the formation of moon regolith ("moon dust") by banging rocks together. Experiment with its electrostatic properties, which made moon landings a challenge.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Electricity, Electromagnetism (7)
Earth/Space: Sun, Moon, Solar System, Universe (1, 4, 6)
Lessons activity is in: 
Materials: 
  • rocks that create dust when banged together
  • goggles, or a screen to stop flying rock pieces from getting in eyes
  • shallow cardboard box or tray with a white paper lining
  • clear plexi sheet that covers the box
Procedure: 

The surface of the moon is covered in moon regolith (moon dust), a few metre to tens of metres deep. image at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regolith#/media/File:Apollo_11_bootprint.jpg
Earth regolith is formed by erosion - the wind and rain brush tiny particles from rock and erodes them.
Moon has no running water and no wind - how is the regolith formed? By the impacts of meteorites.

Simulate the formation of moon regolith by banging one rock (the surface of the moon) with another rock (a meteorite).
A fine dust is formed. Collect the dust in the tray with the white lining.

To look a property of the regolith, lay the plexi sheet over the tray of regolith, and rub a hand over it.
Students will find that the regolith jumps up to the plastic, and dances up and down, and they can spend a while experimenting. If they cannot get the dust to jump, try using a drier (non-sweaty) hand and rubbing faster (a piece of cloth may also help).
The regolith jumps because of electrostatic charges. Rubbing the plexi sheet gives it a charge, which attracts the tiny grains of regolith that are also charged.

Moon regolith is even finer (1/100 mm) than the dust made here, and also more charged (because it is bombarded by charged particles from space). When we land on the moon, the dust coats space suits, solar panels and camera lenses. (See image at http://www.space.com/18907-schmitt-covered-with-lunar-dirt.html
_GPN-2000-001124.jpg). Moon regolith is also sharp enough to wear away space suits and scratch visors. (Image of regolith magnified at https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/30/76830-004-38A20966.jpg)
Technology has overcome some of these challenges, for example electric fields are wired on camera lenses and surfaces to attract the moon dust to the side of the lenses.

Attached documents: 
Notes: 

Regolith is a layer of loose, heterogeneous superficial material covering solid rock. It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, Mars, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.

Grades taught: 
Gr 3
Gr 5
Gr 6
Gr 7
Teacher: 
Ingrid
Phyllis Daly
Reid McInnes
Teaching site: 
JEMZ+ After school science
Strathcona Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Strathcona Elementary