Stories tagged transient lunar phenomena

Mar
04
2009

The moon stands alone: Astronomers are trying to determine if transient lunar phenonena on the moon are strange gas emissions from the satellite's core.
The moon stands alone: Astronomers are trying to determine if transient lunar phenonena on the moon are strange gas emissions from the satellite's core.Courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center - Earth Sciences and Image Analysis (NASA-JSC-ES&IA)
The moon is just one big dead hunk of rock circling around our Earth, right?

Well, not exactly. Some astronomers are getting curious about an annoying habit that shows up frequently enough in their telescopic viewings of the moon. They want to know if it is, um, cutting the cheese in regular intervals, if you know what I mean.

Since folks with telescopes have been looking at the moon for over 400 years, they’ve observed this occasional weird phenomenon where specific areas of the moon suddenly get bright and/or blurry for a few minutes. Over the age of astronomy, about 1,500 such events have been witnessed and recorded.

Is it just their tired eyes playing a trick on them or is there something odd going on here?

Some contend the effect – scientifically called transient lunar phenomena (TLP) – is just a funky lighting effect of the sun’s rays grazing a crater at an odd angle. But astrophysicist Arlin Crotts of Columbia University thinks there’s more to the situation.

His theory is that the moon is still undergoing geological changes. The TLPs are the result of radon-like gas releases from the moon’s core working their way to the surfacing and kicking up lunar dust.

Well, the moon can’t be sneaky with its TLP efforts anymore. Two observatories are now keeping the moon in their sights permanently with robotic telescopes well into 2010. One is located in New York and the other in Chile. They’ll be taking images of the moon every 20 seconds looking for TLPs. The images are then put into a computer and analyzed. If a TLP is spotted, moon-orbiting satellites are notified to zoom their attention to the site or a better look.

Why all this effort to see if the moon really has a gas problem?

First, learning more about this geological behavior could tell us more about the moon’s creation and early life, researchers say. Also, learning more about the moon’s geology – and any potential water resources that might be under its surface – could be a huge boom for future space missions to the moon’s surface.

Plus, and this is just my own reasoning, if we can determine TLPs are indeed gas emissions from the moon, we’ll have a reliable source to blame for all rude odors that no one wants to take credit for.