Since the first Apollo mission in 1969, astronauts have since reported strange flashes of light on the surface of the moon that seems to come out of nowhere.
Many scientists have made speculations about the cause and possible origins of the flashing lights but none of them have ever come close to being a definitive explanation.
However, there are some theories that may hold a little weight in explaining the occurrence of these strange flashes. So, in today’s video we are exploring some of the theories as we try to figure out these mysterious flashes of light on the surface of the moon.
THE COSMIC RAY CONUNDRUM
As mentioned earlier, astronauts since the first moon landing by Apollo 11 have reported sighting s of flashing lights on the moon’s surface. What’s strange about it is that they have reported these flashes even when their eyes are closed.
In one documentary, the lights were allegedly seen by several of the Apollo astronauts as they approached the moon.
An astronaut named Charles Duke shares his experience and narrates, “I’m having these light flashes. I’m seeing this, like, light flashing in my eyeballs.”
Astronauts who have encountered the lights would describe it as white flashes but there are others that have reported back after encountering lights in different colours such as blue and yellow; and in almost all instances, after they have come back home to earth, astronauts who have come across these lights would still see these flashes under various lighting conditions.
A theory explains why these astronauts are seeing what they were seeing and it all points towards cosmic rays.
Defined as a “highly energetic atomic nucleus or particle that travels through space at a speed close to that of light”, these rays – and how they interacted with the human optic nerve – are responsible for the eyes seeing strange lights in varying degrees of colours depending on how much radiation from cosmic rays the optic nerve has absorbed.
To test this theory, engineers put together an experiment involving a black box that can be worn as a helmet. The box would then have sensors that would detect the presence of cosmic rays.
Astronaut Charles Duke wore the helmet on his next mission and reported back seeing clusters of lights and white streaks the same time the box detected the presence of cosmic rays in his immediate environment.
THE LUNAR FROST FACTOR
Another theory explaining the flashes of lights is the existence of cold spots on the moon’s surface. These cold spots have been discovered to have layers of thin ice and frost that, when lights from the sun reflects on it, creates flashing or blinking that may trick the eye into believing that the lights are coming from the moon itself.
Revealed from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or LRO, the data brought back helped researches identify certain areas on the moon’s south pole that are cold enough to have frost formations. These formations are suspected to be located in craters where temperatures can drop to negative 163 degrees Celsius.
According to Elizabeth Fisher, the lead author of the research, “We found that the coldest place near the moon’s south pole are also the brightest places – brighter than we would expect from soil alone – and that might indicate the presence of surface frost.”
Furthermore, the research suggests that the icy deposits on the moon appear to be thin and in patches and may be mixed in with the moon’s soil and dust. Also, the evidence of frost suggests that the moon may either have water deposits for millions of years or may have been brought by colliding asteroids which may also explain how water was delivered on the surface of the earth.
Although, another hypothesis points out that hydrogen may have been present in a different form on the surface of the moon – but the idea that the moon could store water ice is still difficult to confirm and is being looked into for over 50 years now and since 2009 understanding the main composition of these icy deposits are still being studied and remains one of the main goals of the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter.
THE TRANSIENT LUNAR PHENOMENON
This is a controversial area of study that mainly involves looking into bright sparks on the moon’s surface, discolourations, or misty patches of lunar fog.
Transient Lunar Phenomenon was a term created by Sir Patrick Moore in 1968 in order to give the sightings credence in the scientific community. However, these sightings have existed for more than a millennium according to studies on the subject.
One of the early records of this phenomenon was traced back to a mistake made in the 16th Century when early astronomers spotted a “daytime star” near the moon but was later on discovered to be the planet Venus.
Fast forward to 1969 to a time when astronomy has made larger strides since the 16th Century; during the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong remarked that there was “an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area” of the moon.
After several studies conducted by NASA after the Apollo 11 mission, various photographs and images have been taken and produced in order to find the root cause of the strange lights.
Unfortunately, unlike the sudden flashes caused by asteroids on impact, the illumination on the surface of the moon appears to be much more subtle and harder to trace.
In a study conducted by the British Astronomical Association led by Jill Scrambler, the amount of data used between 1700 and 2010 were impressive and the studies conducted on each of them were extremely thorough as each data from different observers – from amateur to seasoned astronomers – were weighed for reliability.
The result was that at least 2% of the TLP sightings were considered “definitive” and unambiguous”. To put it simply: there really is something happening on the surface of the moon, we just aren’t sure what it is. To this very day, researchers are not clear as to what the real cause of TLPs is.
And, according to Jill Scrambler, when asked about the influence of solar cycles possibly influencing the illumination on the moon, “Although there are theories that might infer that TLP would be more frequent during high solar activity, from the sunspot cycle perspective there is no evidence to support this.”
Fortunately for scientists and astronomers continuing to conduct their research on the phenomenon, a new spacecraft called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer was launched in the summer of 2013 to better explore the surface of the moon and provide clearer explanations about these mysterious illuminations and flashing lights.