picture of the day
Image of an anomalous
bright patch in Mare Vaporum.
Credit: Leon Stuart.
Dec 21, 2007
Transient Lunar Phenomena
The Moon is dominated
by gigantic circular structures where unusual luminous
discharges have been observed. Are they indicative of past
have long looked up at and wondered about the Moon. Our
forebears probably pondered its origin and its influence,
perhaps seeking a purpose for the pale, shining orb that now
dominates the night sky.
For more than a
thousand years, reports have circulated about events on
the Moon that should not appear on a "dead" celestial
body. Various accounts describe glowing clouds in red and
green, or sudden outbursts of yellow flares and intense
flashes of light. Such observations do not accord with
Because the Moon
is thought to have lost all its heat to space more than a
billion years ago and it has no magnetic field to speak of,
violent activity should not be taking place on its surface
today. For this reason, astronomers and astrophysicists have
discounted "transient lunar phenomena". Since most of the
sightings by single individuals received no corroboration
and no images were recorded until recently, the incidents
were said to be apocryphal or deliberately misleading.
However, some serious attempts have been made to link
historical narratives with physical impacts:
"There was a
bright new moon, and as usual in that phase its horns were
tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn split in
two. From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch
sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire,
hot coals, and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the moon which
was below writhed, as it were, in anxiety, and, to put it in
the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with
their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a wounded snake.
Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was
repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various
twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then
after these transformations the moon from horn to horn, that
is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance." (Jack
B. Hartung (1976). "Was the Formation of a 20-km
Diameter Impact Crater on the Moon Observed on June 18,
1178?" Meteoritics 11:187-194).
Meteors are one
hypothesis for the abrupt appearance and disappearance of
lunar scintillations, although Hartung's proposal has met
consideration is that radiant lunar displays do not
originate with the Moon. It is reasonable to assume that
unfavorable conditions could result in false impressions.
Earth's atmosphere is notorious for distorting the images
from ground-based telescopes, so some reflective or
refractive discrepancy might intrude into the data.
Equipment resolution or the visual acuity of eyewitnesses
could also be factors if the observations occur near the
limit of crisp apprehension.
Because some TLP's
are said to shimmer like a wavering candle,
investigators suggest that the Moon has pockets of gas
trapped just below the surface. Moonquakes or landslides
might cause one of the cavities to rupture, allowing the
escaping gas to jet out into the sunlight where it is seen
as a hazy column of brightness against the dark regolith.
The majority of
such "flames" are associated with the edges of lunar maria
which geologists think are ancient volcanic regions. In the
image at the top of the page is one of the first photographs
of a TLP from within the "Sea
of Vapors". The
Ina Structure is another area where explosive outgassing
is supposed to have taken place, but standard theories place
its age at over three million years so its influence on
modern accounts is suspect.
That leaves open
the question of whether transient phenomena on the Moon are
in fact real. The question was answered by a
recent statistical breakdown indicating the evidence for
them and the reports about them are authentic. What could
the explanation be for their appearance?
One theory that
bears close examination is related to electrostatic charging
and discharging of materials on the surface. Triboelectric
charging of particles or electrostatic levitation of dust
near the lunar terminator might give rise to some
luminescence visible to observers on our planet. Several
lunar surface features seem best identified with electrical
scars from catastrophic encounters in the recent past, so
remnant electrodynamic forces might linger in the Moon's
environment to this day - especially since the Moon's orbit
takes it in and out of the charge sheath that extends
outward from Earth.
fascinating reading from
Ralph Juergens about the electrical interactions between
the Moon and other planetary bodies in the past can be found
in the Kronia.com library.
By Stephen Smith
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