Vol 19, No 6

Lunar surface potential and electric field

Lei Li, Yi-Teng Zhang, Bin Zhou, Yong-Yong Feng


Abstract The Moon has no significant atmosphere, thus its surface is exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation and the solar wind. Photoemission and collection of the solar wind electrons and ions may result in lunar surface charging. On the dayside, the surface potential is mainly determined by photoelectrons, modulated by the solar wind; while the nightside surface potential is a function of the plasma distribution in the lunar wake. Taking the plasma observations in the lunar environment as inputs, the global potential distribution is calculated according to the plasma sheath theory, assuming Maxwellian distributions for the surface emitted photoelectron and the solar wind electrons. Results show that the lunar surface potential and sheath scale length change versus the solar zenith angle, which implies that the electric field has a horizontal component in addition to the vertical one. By differentiating the potential vertically and horizontally, we obtain the global electric field. It is found that the vertical electric field component is strongest at the subsolar point, which has a magnitude of 1 V m−1. The horizontal component is much weaker, and mainly appears near the terminator and on the nightside, with a magnitude of several mV m−1. The horizontal electric field component on the nightside is rotationally symmetric around the wake axis and is strongly determined by the plasma parameters in the lunar wake.


Keywords Moon — planets and satellites: surfaces — planets and satellites: fundamental parameters — planets and satellites: physical evolution

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