picture of the day
Two prominent craters on the Moon appear in this photograph taken from
orbit during the Apollo 15
large bright crater toward
the center is Aristarchus. On the right is the crater
from which extends the
great rille of Schroeter’s Valley (a subject
of the next article
in this series).
Mar 10, 2006
Lunar Craters—a Failed Theory (2)
The Puzzles of Aristarchus
The crater Aristarchus, pictured above, stands out in all Earth-based
telescopic images of the Moon. Of the larger formations on the Moon,
this rayed crater is considered the brightest. It is also
distinguished from its surroundings by its elevation on a rocky
plateau rising more than 2 kilometers above the dark “mare” of
Oceanus Procellarum. For context, we have circled the Aristarchus
scar on the Hubble image (large) placed
In the Hubble image we see the crater
Tycho, a subject of our
previous submission, dominating the southern face of the Moon. Well
to the north of Tycho is the second most dramatic feature of the
Moon, the impressive spidery scar of Aristarchus, covering a much
greater area than one might suspect from close-up images of the
crater itself. For further context, a darker image we have placed
shows the relationship of the crater itself to the extended
As can be seen most clearly in the Hubble image, the rays or streamers do
not all radiate directly from the crater, and they are not linear.
These two facts, undeniable on direct observation, make clear that
the streamers are not ejecta. Additionally, the close-up images of
the crater (as in our picture above) show that many if not all the
“rays” are not deposits of ejecta but depressed channels,
as if material has been removed from the bright paths by the very
event that produced the crater.
strangely, the idea of ejecta from Aristarchus remains the standard
explanation. An artificial convergence of scientific opinion has
enabled theorists to look past essential and obvious details that
challenge the established perspective.
can be disconcerting to realize that things either ignored or
forgotten by astronomers and planetary scientists include countless
pointers to a new and far more unified foundation for planetary
science. In fact, evidence of past electrical events on the Moon was
noted very early in the twentieth century. (See “”Lunar Craters—A
More than forty years ago the British journal Spaceflight published the
laboratory experiments of Brian J. Ford, an amateur astronomer who
suggested that most of the craters on the moon were carved by cosmic
electrical discharge. (Spaceflight 7, January, 1965).
In the cited experiments
Ford used a spark-machining apparatus to reproduce in miniature some
of the most puzzling lunar features, including craters with central
peaks, small craters preferentially perched on the high rims of
larger craters, and craters strung out in long chains. He also
observed that the ratio of large to small craters on the Moon
matched the ratio seen in electrical arcing.
In 1969, just prior to the first Moon landing, Immanuel Velikovsky
suggested that rayed craters on the Moon were the result of electric
arcs—cosmic thunderbolts. Since terrestrial lightning can magnetize
surrounding rock, Velikovsky predicted that lunar rocks would be
found to contain remanent magnetism. Astronomers saw no reason to
consider such possibilities, and they were caught by surprise when
lunar rocks returned by Apollo missions revealed remanent magnetism.
In 1974 the engineer Ralph Juergens published two groundbreaking
articles arguing that major features of both the Moon and Mars
were electrical discharge scars. Juergens drew attention to both
Tycho and Aristarchus on the Moon, suggesting that these features
display the unique attributes of cosmic thunderbolts. First, there
are the long linear streamers that mark the paths of electrons
rushing across the surface toward a regional high point. This is the
event that provokes the leader stroke of a discharge. Then, the
explosive discharge from a more intense return stroke excavates a
crater surrounded by an electrical discharge effect called a
“Lichtenberg figure”, a pattern well known in industrial
applications of electric discharge.
To illustrate the point, we’ve placed a picture
here showing the
effect of a lightning stroke on a golf course. The resulting
Lichtenberg figure displays a typical “dendritic” pattern (as in the
branching of a tree or a drainage system). From the circumference
of the figure any filamentary “dendritic” path can be followed back
to the discharge point.
On the Moon, in the case of
Tycho, Aristarchus, and numerous lesser
instances as well, we see Lichtenberg figures superimposed upon the
longer linear rays tracing the electron paths that preceded a cosmic
discharge. The long linear paths are often slightly “displaced”: In
electrical terms they would not be expected to stand in a strictly
radial relationship to the focal point of the subsequent discharge.
But the paradoxes of scientific perception abound. On the Moon, the
Lichtenberg pattern is supposed to mark the trails of debris from an
impact explosion. But we see similar Lichtenberg patterns elsewhere
in the solar system, and in these cases the accepted “explanations”
take us in opposite directions. The entire equatorial region of
Venus is covered with effusive Lichtenberg figures, as can be seen
in the pictures
These extraordinary patterns are claimed to signify flowing
lava—though for this interpretation to hold one has to believe that
the familiar dendritic “drainage” was reversed, with the
branching occurring downstream: Lichtenberg figures do
not make good drainage patterns from the center outward!
Lichtenberg patterns are also present on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Here they are said to be “drainage channels” for liquid methane,
though we have challenged that interpretation in a previous
Picture of the Day. (The connection between the patterns on
Titan and Venus was also the subject of an earlier Picture of the
Day, “Titan’s Big Sister”).
The value of the Lichtenberg figure is that it is easily and
definitively distinguished from the radial pattern of exploding
ejecta. Ejecta follow neither fine linear nor dendritic paths. But
electrical arcs do, and that is the nature of the most prominent
“blast” patterns on the Moon. Look at the Hubble picture again to
see if the longer, slightly displaced radial paths, together with
superimposed Lichtenberg patterns, are in fact the case. Once
discerned, the truth of the matter is impossible to miss.
NEXT IN THIS SERIES — March 14: Lunar Rilles