sodium tail of the Moon
donbâle-ye sodiomi-ye Mâng
Fr.: queue de sodium de la Lune
A comet-like tail of the Moon comprised of → sodium (Na) atoms and invisible to the naked eye. The lunar surface is constantly bombarded by the → solar wind, → photons, and → meteoroids, which can liberate Na atoms from the → regolith. These atoms are subsequently accelerated by solar → radiation pressure to form a long comet-like tail opposite the Sun. Near → new moon, this diffuse cloud of Na atoms encounters the Earth's gravity and is "pinched" into a beam of enhanced density. This beam appears as the ~3° diameter Sodium Moon Spot (SMS) seen in the sky opposite the Sun. The spot is about five times the diameter of the → full moon, and is 50 times fainter than can be seen with the unaided eye. The spot is reflected light from millions of Na atoms that two days earlier were on the surface of the Moon. This spot is visible to sensitive cameras equipped with filters tuned to the orange light emitted by Na atoms near 589.3 nm (Baumgardner et al., 2021 Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets DOI: 10.1029/2020je006671).