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Science
FRONTIERS
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Monday 21:00-21:30
Frontiers explores new ideas in science, meeting the researchers who see the world through fresh eyes and challenge existing theories - as well as hearing from their critics. Many such developments create new ethical and moral questions and Frontiers is not afraid to consider these.
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Listen to 3 November
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Monday 3 November 2008
Photo of a TLP (centre of moon) taken in 1955 (credit: Estate of Leon H. Stuart, M.D.)
Photo of a TLP (centre of moon) taken in 1955 (credit: Estate of Leon H. Stuart, M.D.)

Transient Lunar Phenomena

To some, they are signs that something stirs beneath the Moon’s dead face. To the majority of lunar scientists, they are merely tricks of the light and imagination.

Transient lunar phenomena, or TLPs, is the name given to the spots and patches of brightness or red colour occasionally reported by people looking at the moon through telescopes. They usually disappear within about fifteen minutes.

There’s a record of about two thousand sightings, stretching back over four centuries.

Famous TLP witnesses include Sir Patrick Moore and the crew of Apollo 11.

In this episode of Frontiers, Andrew Luck-Baker explores the debate about the real nature of TLPs and the latest research to resolve the controversy.

One theory is that people are seeing the light reflected by clouds of lunar dust blown off the surface by sudden outbursts of gas from the moon’s interior.

However there are several alternative explanations for TLPs which place their origin in the Earth’s atmosphere, in flaws in telescopes’ optics and in moon watchers’ imaginations.

The TLP controversy may be reaching its final stages. Professor Arlin Crotts at Columbia University has set up two robotic telescopes to constantly monitor the moon for these events. They will catch any small transient spots of brightness and provide a record of hard data which all other scientists can scrutinise.

If you are interested yourself in joining amateur astronomers who are helping to solve the TLP mystery, the lunar section of the British Astronomical Association coordinates several observing projects. See the link to their webpage below for a contact email and more info.
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