Washington, March 3 (ANI): Astronomers have suggested that the occasional bright flashes seen on small areas of the Moon, may indicate that some form of geological activity must still be going on the dead satellite.
Observers around the world have occasionally watched small areas of the moon brighten or "turn fuzzy." Sometimes, they even turn reddish.
Because the bright patches are ephemeral, lasting only last a few minutes, these events have come to be known as transient lunar phenomena, or TLPs.
"About 1,500 of these have been reported," astronomer Arlin Crotts told National Geographic magazine.
Astronomers already know they're not meteorite impacts. Those produce brighter, briefer flashes as the meteorite hits the surface and vaporizes.
But, nobody yet knows what TLPs are-or even whether they truly exist. Many astronomers think they're simply optical illusions or figments of observers' tired eyes and overactive imaginations.
Crotts believes the time has come to put the riddle to rest once and for all.
Scientists have long believed the moon to be a dead world, but if TLPs are real, then some form of geological activity must still be going on.
According to Peter Schultz of Brown University, "If we were to go back to the moon, we might be able to go to these places and discover something absolutely new about its ancient history or its deep interior."
For observing these so-called "flashes", Crotts, Schultz and their team have set up two 10-inch (25-centimeter) robotic telescopes, one in New York City and one at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in northern Chile.
In a project begun last year and is expected to continue at least into 2010, each telescope is photographing the moon every 20 seconds.
At each site, the images are fed into computers that can examine them for changes that might signal a TLP.
"We want to start catching these things in the act," Crotts said.
Crotts' main goal is to supplement the anecdotal reports dating back hundreds of years with real science.
"I'm trying to get an objectively undeniable data set that shows when and where these events take place," he said.
Crotts has compared the areas where TLPs have been most frequently sighted to regions where Apollo space missions observed evidence of a short-lived radioactive gas, radon-222, escaping from the Moon's interior - a clear sign that some type of geological activity was going on.
According to Crotts, the Apollo instruments spotted several such outbursts, all in areas where TLPs are frequently reported.
"The chances of this happening at random are extremely small," he said. (ANI)