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What Does the Moon Smell Like?

Apollo astronauts found that the lunar dust was clingy, sharp, irritating stuff... and it smelled like gunpowder. (Apollo 16 image)

Apollo astronauts found that the lunar dust is clingy, sharp, irritating stuff… and it smells like gunpowder.

The Moon may not have any air to breathe, but it does have a very thin exosphere — a diffuse layer of molecules held by gravity above its surface that sometimes traps some of the very fine lunar dust in suspension via electrostatic activity. (In fact this very evening, at 11:27 pm EDT, Sept. 6, NASA’s LADEE mission will launch to study that dust suspended in the lunar exosphere.)

Now while you couldn’t take a whiff of the dust on the Moon directly (and if you have allergies, you probably wouldn’t want to) many of the Apollo astronauts reported that the super-fine Moon dust on their suits smelled like burnt gunpowder once they returned to the breathable environment inside the landing modules. But why? Find out here.

Moondust. “I wish I could send you some,” says Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. Just a thimbleful scooped fresh off the lunar surface. “It’s amazing stuff.”

Feel it—it’s soft like snow, yet strangely abrasive.

Taste it—”not half bad,” according to Apollo 16 astronaut John Young.

Sniff it—”it smells like spent gunpowder,” says Cernan.

Ultimately there may be a correlation between the smell of fresh spring rain here on Earth and the “lovely odor” of sharp, powdery dust on the Moon!

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About Jason Major

Jason is a Rhode Island-based graphic designer, photographer, nature lover, space exploration fanatic, and coffee addict. In no particular order.

Posted on September 6, 2013, in The Moon and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Interesting article, Mr. Major!

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  2. I really like your theme and your page set up! I’m into Astronomy as well… In fact, I have an Astronomy category on my blog that needs beefing up… a tad…

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  3. Not green cheese then…hmmm. Achoo!

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  4. So? What does the moon smell like?

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  5. is Moon Dust Safe to breathe or contact with skin?is it radioActive or it cause to much allergic reactions?

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    • I would say it can cause irritation at the least, and severe allergic reaction at worst with possible long-term health dangers as a result of repeated inhalation (think mesothelioma). It’s not radioactive, but it is an irritant.

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  6. Jason, I just wanted to take a moment this AM to let you know how much I enjoy your site. Along with others like UT, etc.. It’s a part of my “go-to” list of sites for interesting cosmology/astronomy news & analysis. Thanks for matching the passion of your readers with amazing content & hard work. This is the first place I’ve ever read anything about the smell of lunar regolith!

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