Swirl mission concept: Unraveling the enigma

Mark S. Robinson, Jekan Thangavelautham, Brian J. Anderson, Ahmet Deran, Samuel J. Lawrence, Robert Wagner, Rex Ridenoure, Bobby Williams, David Dunham, Alessandra Babuscia, Kar Ming Cheung, Anthony L. Genova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


During the Apollo era of lunar exploration, mysterious albedo patterns, called swirls, captured the imagination of the scientific community. A key aspect of this interest was due to the discovery that the swirls are associated with localized relatively strong remnant magnetic fields. Analysis of returned soil samples revealed that solar wind, galactic cosmic rays, and micrometeorite impacts change the albedo of surface soil grains, a process known as space weathering that reduces regolith reflectance over time. Thus it was natural to invoke local magnetic structures as shields that retard space weathering resulting in relatively less space weathering of the regolith in regions with the strongest localized magnetic fields. However, the origins of the magnetic anomalies and associated swirls remain enigmatic to this day. We designed the Swirl CubeSat to determine the nature of remnant lunar magnetic fields and investigate their role in moderating space weathering of the regolith and assess their suitability for radiation protection of surface assets. Swirl has one focused observational objective: characterize the magnetic field associated with the Reiner Gamma Swirl (RGS) at sub-kilometer spatial sampling, with 0.5 nTesla accuracy and 100 m spatial precision. In the Swirl mission concept, the Swirl spacecraft, a 6U CubeSat, would deploy as a secondary payload from a vehicle on a deep space trajectory. A series of maneuvers would then place the spacecraft in a low orbit that would then be modified to have a periapse of 5–10 km for thirty orbits passing over RGS. Prime Swirl observations were designed during these low-altitude passes and consist of high-resolution vector magnetic field measurements and monochrome navigation imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-88
Number of pages16
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Lunar swirls
  • Magnetic anomalies
  • Mission concept
  • Reiner Gamma Swirl

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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