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Encyclopedia > Transient lunar phenomenon
This map, based on a survey of 300 TLPs by Barbara Middlehurst and Patrick Moore, shows the approximate distribution of observed events. Red-hued events are in red; the remainder are yellow.
This map, based on a survey of 300 TLPs by Barbara Middlehurst and Patrick Moore, shows the approximate distribution of observed events. Red-hued events are in red; the remainder are yellow.

A transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) refers to short-lived lights, colors, or changes in appearance of the lunar surface. Claims of short-lived phenomena go back at least 1000 years, with some having been observed independently by multiple witnesses or reputable scientists. Nevertheless, the majority of transient lunar phenomena reports are irreproducible and do not possess adequate control experiments that could be used to distinguish among alternative hypotheses. Few reports concerning these phenomena are ever published in peer reviewed scientific journals, and rightfully or wrongfully, the lunar scientific community rarely discusses these observations. Most lunar scientists will acknowledge that transient events such as outgassing and impact cratering do occur over geologic time: the controversy lies in the frequency of such events. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Sir Patrick Moore presenting The Sky at Night, October 2005 Sir Alfred Patrick Caldwell-Moore, CBE, HonFRS, FRAS (born 4 March 1923), known as Patrick Moore, is an English amateur astronomer who has attained legendary status in British astronomy as a writer and television presenter of the subject and who... This article is about Earths moon. ... This article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with scientific control. ... A hypothesis (= assumption in ancient Greek) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. ... Peer review (known as refereeing in some academic fields) is a scholarly process used in the publication of manuscripts and in the awarding of funding for research. ... Outgassing (sometimes called Offgassing, particularly when in reference to indoor air quality) is the slow release of a gas that was trapped, frozen, absorbed or adsorbed in some material. ... This article is about impact craters, also known as meteor craters. ... The lunar geologic timescale (or perhaps more properly the selenologic timescale) divides the history of Earths Moon into six generally recognized geologic periods: Copernician Period : 1100 MY to present Eratosthenian Period : 3200 MY to 1100 MY Upper Imbrian Epoch : 3800 MY to 3200 MY Lower Imbrian Epoch : 3850 MY...


Description of events

Reports of transient lunar phenomena range from foggy patches to permanent changes of the lunar landscape. Cameron[1] classifies these as (1) gaseous, involving mists and other forms of obscuration, (2) reddish colorations, (3) green, blue or violet colorations, (4) brightenings, and (5) darkenings. Two extensive catalogs of transient lunar phenomena exist,[1][2] with the most recent tallying 2254 events going back to the 6th century. Of the most reliable of these events, at least one-third come from the vicinity of the Aristarchus plateau. Aristarchus is a prominent lunar impact crater that lies in the northwest part of the Moons near side. ...

A few of the more famous historical events of transient phenomena include the following:

  • On June 18 1178, five or more monks from Canterbury reported an upheaval on the Moon shortly after sunset. "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."[3][4] In 1976 Jack Hartung proposed that this described the formation of the Giordano Bruno crater.
  • During the night of April 19, 1787, the famous British astronomer, Sir William Herschel, noticed three red glowing spots on the dark part of the Moon.[5] He informed King George III and other astronomers of his observations. Sir William attributed the phenomena to erupting volcanoes and perceived the luminosity of the brightest of the three as greater than the brightness of a comet that had been discovered on April tenth. His observations were made while an aurora borealis (northern lights) rippled above Padua, Italy.[6] Aurora activity that far south from the Arctic Circle was very rare. Padua’s display and Herschel’s observations had happened a few days before the sunspot number had peaked in May 1787.
  • In 1866, the experienced lunar observer and mapmaker J. F. Julius Schmidt made the claim that Linné crater had changed its appearance. Based on drawings made earlier by J. H. Schröter, as well as personal observations and drawings made between 1841 to 1843, he stated that the crater "at the time of oblique illumination cannot at all be seen"[7] (his emphasis), whereas at high illumination it was visible as a bright spot. Based on repeat observations, he further stated that "Linné can never be seen under any illumination as a crater of the normal type" and that "a local change has taken place." Today, Linné is visible as a normal young impact crater with a diameter of about 2.4 km.
  • On November 2 1958, the Russian astronomer Nikolai A. Kozyrev observed an apparent half hour "eruption" that took place on the central peak of Alphonsus crater using a 48-inch reflector telescope equipped with a spectrometer. During this time, the obtained spectra showed evidence for bright gaseous emission bands due to the molecules C2 and C3.[8] While exposing his second spectrogram, he noticed "a marked increase in the brightness of the central region and an unusual white color." Then, "all of a sudden the brightness started to decrease" and the resulting spectrum was normal.
  • On October 29, 1963, two Aeronautical Chart and Information Center cartographers, James A. Greenacre and Edward Barr,[9] at the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona, manually recorded very bright red, orange, and pink color phenomena on the southwest side of Cobra Head; a hill southeast of Schroeter’s Valley; and the southwest interior rim of the crater Aristarchus.[10] This event sparked a major change in attitude towards LTP reports. According to Willy Ley:[11] “The first reaction in professional circles was, naturally, surprise, and hard on the heels of the surprise there followed an apologetic attitude, the apologies being directed at a long-dead great astronomer, Sir William Herschel.” A notation by Winifred Sawtell Cameron states (1978, Event Serial No.778):[12] “This and their November observations started the modern interest and observing the Moon.” The credibility of their findings stemmed from Greenacre’s exemplary reputation as an impeccable cartographer. It is interesting to note that this monumental change in attitude had been caused by the reputations of map makers and not by the acquisition of photographic evidence.
  • On the night of November 1-2, 1963, a few days after Greenacre’s event, at the Observatoire du Pic-du-Midi in the French Pyrenees, the legendary Zdenek Kopal[13] and Thomas Rackham[14] made the first photographs of wide area lunar luminescence.[15] His article in Scientific American transformed it into one of the most widely publicized LTP events.[16] Kopal, like others, had argued Solar Energetic Particles were the cause of lunar luminescence.[17]
  • In 1992, Audouin Dollfus of the Observatoire de Paris reported anomalous features on the floor of Langrenus crater using a one-meter telescope. While observations on the night of Dec. 29, 1992 were normal, unusually high albedo and polarization features were recorded the following night that did not change in appearance over the 6 minutes of data collection.[18] Observations three days later showed a similar, but smaller, anomaly in the same vicinity. While the viewing conditions for this region were close to specular, it was argued that the amplitude of the observations were not consistent with a specular reflection of sunlight. The favored hypothesis was that this was the consequence of light scattering from clouds of airborne particles resulting from a release of gas. The fractured floor of this crater was cited as a possible source of the gas.

Canterbury is a cathedral city in east Kent in South East England and is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of All England, head of the Church of England and of the worldwide Anglican Communion. ... Giordano Bruno is a small lunar impact crater whose eponym is the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno. ... Sir Wilhelm Friedrich Herschel (November 15, 1738 Hanover - August 25, 1822 Windsor) was a German-born astronomer and composer who became famous for discovering the planet Uranus, and made many other astronomical discoveries. ... Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt (October 25, 1825 – February 7, 1884) was a German astronomer. ... Linné is a small lunar impact crater located in the western Mare Serenitatis. ... Johann Hieronymus Schröter (August 30, 1745 – August 29, 1816) was a German astronomer. ... Alphonsus is an ancient impact crater on Earths Moon that dates from the immediate post-Nectarian era. ... A spectrometer is an optical instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. ... Solar Energetic Particles are high-energy particles coming from the Sun which had been first observed in the early 1940s. ... Luminescence is light not generated by high temperatures alone. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Langrenus is a prominent impact crater located near the eastern lunar limb. ... Albedo is the ratio of reflected to incident electromagnetic radiation. ... In electrodynamics, polarization (also spelled polarisation) is the property of electromagnetic waves, such as light, that describes the direction of their transverse electric field. ... Diagram of specular reflection Specular reflection is the perfect, mirror-like reflection of light from a surface, in which light from a single incoming direction is reflected onto a single outgoing direction. ...


Explanations for the transient lunar phenomena fall in four classes: outgassing, impact events, elecrostatic phenomena, and unfavorable observation conditions.


Some TLPs may be caused by gas escaping from underground cavities. A number of these gaseous events are purported to display a distinctive reddish hue, while others have appeared as white clouds or an indistinct haze. The majority of TLPs appear to be associated with floor-fractured craters, the edges of lunar maria, or in other locations linked by geologists with volcanic activity. However, it should be noted that these are some of the most common targets when viewing the Moon, and this correlation could be an observational bias. The Lunar maria (singular: mare, IPA: //) are large, dark, basaltic plains on Earths Moon, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. ...

In support of the outgassing hypothesis, data from the Lunar Prospector alpha particle spectrometer indicate the recent outgassing of radon to the surface.[19] In particular, results show that radon gas was emamating from the vicinity of the craters Aristarchus and Kepler during the time of this two year mission. These observations could be explained by the slow and visualy imperceptible diffusion of gas to the surface, or by discrete explosive events. In support of explosive outgassing, it has been suggested that a roughly 3 km diameter region of the lunar surface was "recently" modified by a gas release event.[20][21] However, the age of this feature is believed to be about 1 million years old, suggesting that such large phenomena occur only infrequently. NASAs Lunar Prospector The Lunar Prospector mission was the third selected by NASA for full development and construction as part of the Discovery Program. ... An alpha particle is deflected by a magnetic field Alpha radiation consists of helium-4 nuclei and is readily stopped by a sheet of paper. ... General Name, Symbol, Number radon, Rn, 86 Chemical series noble gases Group, Period, Block 18, 6, p Appearance colorless Atomic mass (222) g·mol−1 Electron configuration [Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s2 6p6 Electrons per shell 2, 8, 18, 32, 18, 8 Physical properties Phase gas Density (0 °C, 101. ... Aristarchus is a prominent lunar impact crater that lies in the northwest part of the Moons near side. ... Kepler is a young lunar impact crater that lies between the Oceanus Procellarum to the west and Mare Insularum in the east. ...

Impact events

Impact events are continuously occurring on the lunar surface. The most common events are those associated with micrometeorites, as might be encountered during meteor showers. Impact flashes from such events have been detected from multiple and simultaneous Earth based observations.[22][23] Furthermore, impact clouds were detected following the crash of ESA's SMART-1 spacecraft.[24] Impact events leave a visible scar on the surface, and these could be detected by analyzing before and after photos of sufficiently high resolution. No impact craters having formed between the Apollo-era, Clementine (global resolution 100 metre, selected areas 7-20 metre) and SMART-1 (resolution 50 metre) missions have been identified. A Micrometeoroid (also micrometeorite, micrometeor) is a tiny meteoroid; a small particle of rock from space, usually weighing less than a gram, that poses a threat to space exploration. ... SMART-1. ... Clementine was a joint space project between the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO, previously the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, or SDIO) and NASA. The objective of the mission was to test sensors and spacecraft components under extended exposure to the space environment and to make scientific observations of the Moon...

Electrostatic phenomena

8 individual frames taken from a video of the Lunar crater Clavius showing the effect of the Earth´s atmosphere on astronomical images.
8 individual frames taken from a video of the Lunar crater Clavius showing the effect of the Earth´s atmosphere on astronomical images.

It has been suggested that effects related to either electrostatic charging or discharging might be able to account for some of the transient lunar phenomena. One possibility is that electrodynamic effects related to the fracturing of near surface materials could charge any gasses that might be present, such as implanted solar wind or radiogenic daughter products.[25] If this were to occur at the surface, the subsequent discharge from this gas might be able to give rise to phenomenon visible from Earth. Alternatively, it has been proposed that the triboelectric charging of particles within a gas borne dust cloud could give rise to electrostatic discharges visible from Earth.[26] Finally, electrostatic levitation of dust near the terminator could potentially give rise to some form of phenomenon visible from Earth.[27] Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Electrostatics is the branch of physics that deals with the force exerted by a static (i. ... Electromagnetism is the physics of the electromagnetic field: a field, encompassing all of space, composed of the electric field and the magnetic field. ... The plasma in the solar wind meeting the heliopause The solar wind is a stream of charged particles (i. ... A radiogenic nuclide is one that is produced by a process of radioactive decay. ... In nuclear physics, a decay product, also known as a daughter product, is a nuclide resulting from the radioactive decay of a parent or precursor nuclide. ... The triboelectric effect is a type of contact electrification in which certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with another different material, and are then separated. ...

Unfavorable observation conditions

It is possible that many transient phenomena might not be associated with the Moon itself, but could be a result of unfavorable observing conditions or phenomenon associated with the Earth. For instance, some reported transient phenomena are for objects near the resolution of the employed telescopes. The Earth's atmosphere can give rise to significant temporal distortions that could be confused with actual lunar phenomena (see astronomical seeing). Other non-lunar explanations include the viewing of Earth orbiting satellites and meteors.[citation needed] Schematic diagram illustrating how optical wavefronts from a distant star may be perturbed by a turbulent layer in the atmosphere. ...

Are TLPs real?

The most significant problem that faces reports of transient lunar phenomena is that the vast majority of these were made by either a single observer, or at a single location on Earth (or both). The multitude of reports for transient phenomena occurring at the same place on the Moon could be used as evidence supporting their existence. However, in the absence of eyewitness reports from multiple observers at multiple locations on Earth for the same event, these must be regarded with caution. As discussed above, an equally plausible hypothesis for the majority of these events is that they are caused by the terrestrial atmosphere. If an event were to be observed at two different places on Earth at the same time, this could be used as evidence against an atmospheric origin.

One attempt to overcome the above problems with transient phenomena reports was made during the Clementine mission by a network of amateur astronomers. Several events were reported, of which four of these were photographed both beforehand and afterwards by the spacecraft. However, careful analysis of these images shows no discernable differences at these sites.[28] This does not necessarily imply that these reports were a result of observational error, as it is possible that outgassing events on the lunar surface might not leave a visible marker, but neither is it encouraging for the hypothesis that these were authentic lunar phenomena. Clementine was a joint space project between the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO, previously the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, or SDIO) and NASA. The objective of the mission was to test sensors and spacecraft components under extended exposure to the space environment and to make scientific observations of the Moon...

Observations are currently being coordinated by the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers and the British Astronomical Association to re-observe sites where transient lunar phenomena were reported in the past. By documenting the appearance of these features under the same illumination and libration conditions, it is possible to judge whether some reports were simply due to a misinterpretation of what the observer regarded as an abnormality. Furthermore, with digital images it is possible to simulate atmospheric spectral dispersion, astronomical seeing blur and light scattering by our atmosphere to determine if these phenomena could explain some of the original TLP reports. The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (referred to and pronounced as ALPO) was founded by Walter H. Haas in 1947, and incorporated in 1990 as a medium for advancing and conducting astronomical work by both professional and amateur astronomers who share an interest in solar system observations. ... The British Astronomical Association, BAA, is the main national association of amateur astronomers in the UK. It was founded in London in 1890. ... The animation shows a set of simulated views of the Moon over one month. ... Dispersion of a light beam in a prism. ...

See also

Exploring Shorty crater during the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon. ... // Contrary to popular belief, the Moon should not be viewed at its full phase. ... Selenography is the study of the surface and physical features of the Moon, especially the mapping of the features according to the Moons latitude and longitude. ...


Cited references

  1. ^ a b W. Cameron. Analyses of Lunar Transient Phenomena (LTP) Observations from 557–1994 A.D..
  2. ^ Barbara Middlehurst, Jaylee Burley, Patrick Moore, and Barbara Welther (1968). "Chronological Catalog of Reported Lunar Events". NASA TR R-277. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ The Giordano Bruno Crater. BBC.
  5. ^ Herschel, W. (1956, May). Herschel’s ‘Lunar volcanos.’ Sky and Telescope, pp. 302-304. (Reprint of An Account of Three Volcanos in the Moon, William Herschel’s report to the Royal Society on April 26, 1787, reprinted from his Collected Works (1912))
  6. ^ Kopal, Z. (1966, December). Lunar flares. Astronomical Society of the Pacific Leaflets, 9, 401-408
  7. ^ J. F. Julius Schmidt (1867). "The Lunar Crater Linne". Astronomical register 5: 109-110. 
  8. ^ Dinsmore Alter (1959). "The Kozyrev Observations of Alphonsus". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 71: 46-47. 
  9. ^ Greenacre, J. A. (1963, December). A recent observation of lunar color phenomena. Sky & Telescope, 26(6), 316-317
  10. ^ Zahner, D. D. (1963-64, December-January). Air force reports lunar changes. Review of Popular Astronomy, 57(525), 29, 36.
  11. ^ Ley, W. (1965). Ranger to the moon (p. 71). New York: The New American Library of World Literature, Inc.
  12. ^ Cameron, W. S. (1978, July). Lunar transient phenomena catalog (NSSDC/WDC-A-R&S 78-03). Greenbelt, MD: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  13. ^ Meaburn, J. (1994, June). Z. Kopal. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 35, 229-230
  14. ^ Moore, P. (2001). Thomas Rackham, 1919-2001. Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 111(5), 291.
  15. ^ Kopal, Z. & Rackham, T. W. (1963). Excitation of lunar luminescence by solar activity. Icarus, 2, 481-500
  16. ^ Kopal, Z. (1965, May). The luminescence of the moon. Scientific American, 212(5), 28
  17. ^ Kopal, Z. & Rackham, T. W. (1964, March). Lunar luminescence and solar flares. Sky & Telescope, 27(3), 140-141
  18. ^ Audouin Dollfus (2000). "Langrenus: Transient Illuminations on the Moon". Icarus 146: 430-443. 
  19. ^ S. Lawson, W. Feldman, D. Lawrence, K. Moore, R. Elphic, and R. Belian (2005). "Recent outgassing from the lunar surface: the Lunar Prospector alpha particle spectrometer". J. Geophys. Res. 110: doi:10.1029/2005JE002433. 
  20. ^ G. Jeffrey Taylor (2006). Recent Gas Escape from the Moon.
  21. ^ P. H. Schultz, M. I. Staid, and C. M. Pieters (2006). "Lunar activity from recent gas release". Nature 444: 184-186. 
  22. ^ Tony Phillips (Nov. 30, 2001). Explosions on the Moon.
  23. ^ Brian Cudnik, David W. Palmer, David M. Palmer, Anthony Cook, Roger Venable, and Peter Gural (2003). "The Observation and Characterization of Lunar Meteoroid Impact Phenomena". Earth, Moon and Planets 93: 97-106. 
  24. ^ SMART-1 impact flash and dust cloud seen by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (2006).
  25. ^ Richard Zito (1989). "A new mechanism for lunar transient phenomena". Icarus 82: 419-422. 
  26. ^ David Hughes (1980). "Transient lunar phenomena". Nature 285: 438. 
  27. ^ Trudy Bell and Tony Phillips (Dec. 7 2005). New Research into Mysterious Moon Storms.
  28. ^ B. Buratti, W. McConnochie, S. Calkins, and J. Hillier (2000). "Lunar transient phenomena: What do the Clementine images reveal?". Icarus 146: 98-117. 

General references

  • William Sheehan and Thomas Dobbins (2001). Epic Moon: A History of Lunar Exploration in the Age of the Telescope. Willmann-Bell, 363 pp. 
  • Patrick Moore, On the Moon, Cassel & Co., 2001, ISBN 0-304-35469-4.

Sir Patrick Moore presenting The Sky at Night, October 2005 Sir Alfred Patrick Caldwell-Moore, CBE, HonFRS, FRAS (born 4 March 1923), known as Patrick Moore, is an English amateur astronomer who has attained legendary status in British astronomy as a writer and television presenter of the subject and who... See also: 2000 in literature, other events of 2001, 2002 in literature, list of years in literature. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Transient lunar phenomenon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (503 words)
A transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) are lights, colors, or changes in the landscape that are claimed to be observed on the moon.
On November 2, 1958, the Russian astronomer Nikolai A. Kozyrev observed an apparent outgassing of vapor near the central peak of Alphonsus crater.
Some TLP may be caused by gas escaping from underground cavities after moonquakes.
The Moon: K-12 Experiments & Background (5960 words)
The plane of the lunar orbit maintains an inclination of 5.145 396° with respect to the ecliptic (the orbital plane of the Earth around the Sun), and the lunar axis of rotation maintains an inclination of 1.5424° with respect to the normal to that same plane.
The points where the Moon's orbit crosses the ecliptic are called the "lunar nodes": the North (or ascending) node is where the Moon crosses to the North of the ecliptic; the South (or descending) node where it crosses to the South.
Lunar Prospector results, however, indicate the presence of hydrogen in the permanently shadowed regions, which could be in the form of water ice.
  More results at FactBites »



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