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No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990

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Explaining lunar flashes with life-savers

Two recent items in the literature suggest ways in which flashes of light can be generated on the face of the moon. The first enlists the "Life-Saver effect (or "sugar-cube effect"). When Life Savers, sugar cubes, or rocks are fractured, light may flash from their broken surfaces. R.R. Zito, from Lockheed, thinks these flashes occur when energetic electrons are emitted from freshly fractured surfaces. Lunar rocks cracking under stress might very well produce flashes visible from earth. Zito also states that newly fractured rocks emit a curious burst of radio waves in the frequency range of 900-5,000 Hertz.

(Eberhart, J.; "Does the Moon Spark Like a Life-Saver?" Science News, 136: 375, 1989.)

The second explanation of lunar flashes blames them on earth satellites passing in front of the moon. Satellite surfaces can flash like a car's windshield in sunlight, thus simulating a lunar flash. It was just this mechanism that was used to explain the mysterious "flasher" in the constellation Perseus. (SF#53)

The May 23, 1985, lunar flash, reported in SF#64, may have been a reflection from a large military weather satellite that was transiting the moon at the time of the flash, say R.R. Rast and P. Maley. However, the timing and position of the satellite are not as convincing as some would like. Besides, the outline of the flash in the photograph is "confined by features of the lunar terrain."

(Anonymous; "Lunar Flash Mystery: Solved or Deepened?" Sky and Telescope, 78:461, 1989.)

Comment. Regardless, large numbers of lunar flashes were recorded before the advent of artificial satellites. See ALL** in our catalog: The Moon and the Planets. For details on this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #67, JAN-FEB 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987