A newly launched investigation could finally get to the bottom of a mystery that has baffled scientists since the 1950s.
For decades, scientists have observed brief flashes of light that appear on the surface of the moon several times a week. But, no one knows exactly what’s causing them.
Now, using a specially designed lunar telescope in Spain that boasts two cameras, a team will keep an eye on the moon’s activity every night in hopes to capture these strange phenomena and ultimately pinpoint the source.
Scientists have dubbed these strange events ‘transient lunar phenomena.’
The new effort is led by researchers from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg in Germany, who built the new telescope and put it into operation in April 2019.
The telescope sits at a private observatory roughly 100 kilometers north of Seville, where the weather is optimal for viewing.
There are several possible explanations that have circulated over the years, from meteor impacts to interactions between solar wind and moon dust, the researchers say.
‘Seismic activities were also observed on the moon,’ says Hakan Kayal, Professor of Space Technology at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany.
‘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.’
‘The so-called transient lunar phenomena have been known since the 1950s, but they have not been sufficiently observed,’ Kayal said.
When the new telescope logs a luminous phenomenon with both of its cameras at the same time, it will store the observations and send an email to the team.
Artificial intelligence techniques will eventually be added to help it distinguish between different types of events on the moon, as well as false alarms.
The researchers say understanding this type of activity at the surface of the moon will be critical in efforts to establish colonies.
‘Anyone who wants to build a lunar base at some point must of course be familiar with the local conditions,’ Kayal said.
The researchers will eventually compare their results with those collected by the European Space Agency to confirm the observations.