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They’ve been seen on the Moon by astronauts since 1969, with Apollo 12’s Alan Bean remarking:
“I saw a flash and I thought ‘did I really see a flash?”
That flash, it turns out, is something known as transient lunar phenomenon or TLP, which has been documented by astronomers since the late 20th century. As Popular Science notes:
“If you stare at the moon hard enough with a powerful telescope, you’ll notice something bizarre happening on the surface. Flashes of light will burst out momentarily, then vanish just as inexplicably fast. Humans have claimed to witnessed this for at least a thousand years, and modern astronomers have documented the phenomenon since the latter half of the 20th century. Dubbed transient lunar phenomenon (TLP), we’ve seen it over and over and over, without any real understanding for its cause.”
Incidents of TLP have even been mapped:
“Kayal, a professor at Germany’s University of Würzburg, built a moon telescope, deploying it in Spain earlier this year. From its rural base north of Seville, the telescope is mostly free from meddling light pollution, allowing its unflinching eye to remain fixed on the moon.
Make that two eyes. The telescope incorporates dual cameras, each remotely operated from the university campus in Bavaria. When those cameras detect a burst of light, they automatically start recording images, while sending an email to the German research team: The moon is doing that thing again.”
That telescope, used in conjunction with artificial intelligence (AI) software, will soon be able to record every single burst of light on the Moon, Kayal explains:
“One main task for us is to further develop our software for the detection of the events with as low false alarm rates as possible. We already have a basic version which works but there are improvements necessary. As the project is not third party-funded yet and only funded by the resources of the university itself, there is not very much manpower for the software. But we have students who can help to improve the software within their study.”
However, Kayal already has a theory that he thinks explains TLP on the Moon:
“Seismic activities were also observed on the moon. When the surface moves, gases that reflect sunlight could escape from the interior of the moon. This would explain the luminous phenomena, some of which last for hours.”
There have been other educated guesses at what else might be responsible for the flashing on the surface of the Moon:
“The most popular explanations for what’s causing this phenomena, says Kayal, are meteorite impacts; the release of gas or vapors, perhaps through moonquakes, that can cloud the surface and reflect light abnormally; electrostatic discharge due to interactions with the solar wind; and light emission caused by rock fracturing.”
The telescope and new software should be fully operational in about a year, and we might then finally have scientific data to tell us why exactly the Moon is so fond of winking at us from afar.
Featured Image: Moon via Pixabay