Transient Lunar Phenomena

(and other weirdness)

"Up to April, 1871, the selenographers had recorded 1,600 observations upon the fluctuations of the lights of Plato, and had drawn 37 graphs of individual lights. All graphs and other records were deposited by W.R.Birt in the library of the Royal Astronomical Society, where presumably they are to this day. A Champollion may someday decipher hieroglyphics that may have been flashed from one world to another."

-Charles Fort, New Lands

A history of TLP
Civilisation on the moon?
Baron Munchausen's visit to the moon

"Transient Lunar Phenomena" (TLP) is a term used to describe anything which is seen on the moon which is not supposed to be there, and which contradicts the view that the surface of the moon is dead and unchanging. TLP includes strange lights which appear and then subsequently vanish, areas of mist (sometimes coloured) and physical features which appear to come and go. The subject remains controversial, with TLP being dismissed as the result of misperception, or misidentification of craters by amateurs. TLP have however been observed by distinguished astronomers, and even Apollo astronauts. The subject is still largely ignored by astronomers
[2] but I feel that the subject has become marginally more respectable ever since Patrick Moore saw a TLP and took an interest in the subject. Moore (who claims to have coined the term "TLP.") restricts the term to red mists, which he explains (tentatively) as gases rising from below the lunar surface, possibly as a result of "moonquakes"[3].

More recently, the subject seems to have been linked to claims of massive ruined cities on the moon, deduced from blurred photographs. As this latter subject is (in the words of Charles Fort) most definately "damned", I would prefer to keep the two subjects distinct, in the hope that astronomers will take TLP seriously. I confess that I know very little about either of these subjects, and so I have included several links (bottom of page).[top]

A history of TLP
In 1843, Julius Schmidt, the director of the Athens observatory observed that the crater Linne, in the
Mare Serenitatis (named after the pioneering taxonomist, Linnaeus) was several miles in diameter and entirely filled with shadow, when close to the terminator (the border between the illuminated and shadowed regions of the face of the moon). In 1866 he observed a white patch on the floor of the crater, in which later observers found a much smaller crater pit. Schmidt believed that this was due to volcanic activity. Moore [4] states that this is the earliest documented case of it's kind, and that for years prior to this, astronomers were not interested in the moon, but according to the NASA archives (link below) he is wrong.

In his book, "New Lands, Charles Fort recorded many accounts of TLP, as part of a long polemic against astronomers. In particular, lights (sometimes flashing) in Aristarchus, Proclus, Bessel, Kepler, Carlini, Marius, Plato and the Mare Crisium , black spots in Plinius, Littrow and Copernicus, "two straight lines of light, between them a dark band that was covered with luminous points" in the western crater of Messier, a fine line of light "like a luminous cable" drawn across the crater Eudoxus, a similar sighting in Aristarchus, A "black wall" in Aristillus, a shining triangle in Plato, changes in the appearance of Linne, a new object in Hyginus (named Hyginus N, before its subsequent disappearance), reddish mist in Hercules, Plato and Cassini, shafts of light projecting from the moon and a frequently sighted bright spot to the west of Picard. Picard seems to feature in the more recent claims of artifacts on the moon.

Fort observes that a great many of the TLP reports which he had heard about, took place in the north west quadrat of the moon (the top right of the moon as seen from the northern hemisphere).

Recently astronomers have observed meteorites made entirely of ice entering the earths atmosphere (vindicating another of Fort's theories) [12] A recent letter in the New Scientist suggested that the "coloured vapours" seen on the surface of the moon could be caused by ice meteorites coliding with the surface of the moon and vapourising giving rise to a rainbow effect [13]. More recently, other astronomers have disputed the evidence for ice meteorites, describing it as "instrumental artifact" [14]. In true fortean fashion, this subject is not quite ready to be shoe-horned into current definitions of "reality".

The following is taken from Coleridge's "Rhyme of the ancient mariner", around the time that the mariner meets The White Goddess in the form of The lady of Death in Life:

"From the sails the dew did drip-
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip."

This verse was apparently inspired by William Herschel's discovery of "three volcanoes in the moon"[8] (William Herschel was the discoverer of Uranus*) An old picture of The man in the moon shows stars within the crescent moon [1]. The NASA archives (see link below) quote an account of a star seen within the crescent moon from 1580. [top]

Civilisation on the moon?
Fort also records claims of cities upon the moon:

"However, it may be that the general style of architecture upon the moon is Byzantine, very likely, or not so likely domed with glass, giving the dome-effect that has so often been commented upon."

During the mid 1830's, the New York Sun reported that Sir John Herschel (the son of Sir William Herschel, see link below) had built the most powerful telescope known, using "hydro-oxygen reflectors", in his lab in Cape Town. The telescope was even capable of viewing objects on the moon, as small as 18 inches in diameter. The reports, were written by Dr Andrew Grant, Herschel's assistant, who said that forests, flocks of red and white birds, herds of "diminutive bison" had all been observed on the moon, along with strange beavers which lacked tails and walked on their hind legs. There were even people with bat like wings, who had built villages and pyramids. Observations ceased when a fire destroyed the observatory

The story was believed by many other newspapers, and a group of Professors from Yale. The mention of Herschel's name gave the story credibility. It was of course a hoax. Sir John Herschel knew nothing about it, and he had no assistant named Grant. The story had been made up by journalist named Richard Adams Locke (a relative of John Locke) [5].[top]

Ex Nasa employee Ken Johnston has accused NASA of covering up photographic evidence of Alien artefacts on the moon. Full story and photographs at
. The photos fromAmerican and Russianspace missions, include a glowing crater in Aristarchus,a perfect pyramid and several other objects which appear to be man made. A sceptic might suggest that some of these objects are natural rock formations, and others are in fact man made,space junk from earlier missions. One ofthe artefacts in a photo tken by a Russian probe, resembles a communist era post hole auger. Had it perhaps been used for soil sampling?.

Baron Munchausen's visit to the moon
In "Singular travels, campaigns and adventures of Baron Munchaussen".
, the Baron visits the moon twice, the first time by vine (after spending the day herding bees out to pasture!). He returns to earth by lowering himself down on a rope tied to the point of the crescent moon. This story sounds a bit shamanic . Another time his ship is blown there during a storm off Tahiti, and he meets the inhabitants of the moon, who are known as "cooking animals", because of their eating habits: they feast once a month (becoming full!) and fast the rest of the time. They also have detachable heads and eyes , are covered from head to foot in scales, grow on trees, have only one finger on each hand and go into battle riding three headed vultures, armed with giant asparagus spears, and mushrooms for shields. Some of this is familiar lunar symbolism, but other things are obscure (why only one finger?). In the film version by Terry Gilliam (one of the most extravagant turkeys of all time, but hugely enjoyable), the king of the moon was played by Robin Williams, who was for some reason uncredited. In another adventure, the Baron meets a tribe in central Africa, whom he claims originally came from the moon (the proof of this, he said can be found on a pyramid at the source of the river Niger**) Some African legends speak of people living on the moon [6].

The stories were first published anonymously, and then added to by later authors.

The story of the baron's first journey to the moon is said to have been inspired by an old Serbian story entitled "The biggest liar in the world", and also by "The Man in the Moone", by Bishop Francis Godwin.. (Click here for similar stories from Scandinavia and Ireland ). Many other ideas in the stories have been borrowed from earlier folktales.
The original stories were probably written by Rudolph Eriche Raspe (who incidentally had red hair ), to satirise the life of Hieronymous Karl Friederich Freiherr von Munchausen, who was still alive at the time that they were published. Raspe, a former freemason, who had fled up from his creditors in Prussia, following a dishonourable career in science, punctuated by embezlement and fraud, came to England, where he was befriended by Matthew Boulton, one of the founder members of the Birmingham Lunar Society*** . Boulton had just industrialised Birmingham (although William Herschell was also apparently responsible- see note below) and had turned his attention to the Cornish tin industry. Raspe a former geologist was put in charge of modernising the mines, and so he was able to disappear for a few years. During this time, he probably wrote the stories of Baron Munchausen****[9]. The badge of the tin miners guild of the West Country was three rabbits or hares (click here for picture). But I digress (loads).[top]

*William Herschel lived for 81 earth years or one Uranian year. He also believed in life on the moon[15]. In case you're wondering, Uranus was the Greek god of the sky, and the name is sometimes spelt (and pronounced) Ouranos. Herschel had originally intended to call it "George" in honour of the King, and for many years it was known as "Herschel". Astrologers associate the planet with sudden change and revolution, and say that Uranus had no influence prior to it's discovery (which is just as well, because earlier astrologers should have known about it if it did). The French, American, Industrial and Agricultural revolutions all occurred around the time of its discovery. Uranus can actually be seen sometimes with the naked eye, but it is so faint that it was probably never recognised as a planet before Herschel.

In Greek myth, Uranus is not rebellious, if anything, he represents the status quo: Uranus' son Saturn (identified with the Greek Cronos or time who may or may not be a moon god) rebelled against his father and castrated him with a sickle.
Anyway the point is that Herschel was not an astrologer, and the name "Uranus" seems to have been chosen at random from any number of possible Greek deities. I have never heard any astrologer's suggestions about what the correct name for this planet should be. The same could be said of Neptune and Pluto. Neptune (the sea god) is now appropriately enough the ruler of Pisces, but was the name chosen by astronomers or astrologers? Pluto, it is rumoured, was named at the request of the discoverer's young daughter, who may have had the cartoon dog in mind rather than the god of the underworld and wealth. Or doesn't it matter? If a new planet was discovered and named "Minerva", would the people of the world become a sober, wiser place? and if the same planet was named "Bacchus", would this lead to an outbreak of wild parties? If there is another planet to be discovered, this could be the sort of testable hypothesis that would change astrology from pseudoscience into science. David Icke [7] claims that there is such a planet and that it is called Persephone, so is it already having an influence, or only on readers of his books?

And finally, should astronomers take more care in future, after all Herschel senior seems to have been responsible for among other things, the guilotine, the enclosures act, acid rain and chewing gum (O.K. I know archaeologists have found stone age resin with adolescent teeth marks in it, and the Aztecs chewed chicle, but I'm sure it would never be marketed in an English colony) Perhaps human rights groups, ramblers, environmentalists and bus companies could team up with concerned astrologers, to prevent tragedies like these from happening again in future, by curbing new astronomical research? If you have any answers e-mail me [back]

**The source of the river Niger is quite close to the sea, it flows north, inland, turns sharply eastward, before flowing south into the sea. This confused early explorers and map makers, and numerous expeditions to find the source of the Niger failed because explorers went to the wrong regions entirely.[back]

***I only found this out after I wrote the piece on The Birmingham Lunar Society Synchronicity really does my head in.[back]

****Whereas Boots finished his adventure down a fox hole, the baron ended up "nine fathoms under grass", an expression used by the Cornish tin miners.[back]

Links to other sites on the web

Far Shore: Lunar life or transient phenomena?
A page spookily similar to this one, with additional stuff
Far Shore: More on TLP
A scientific explanation for TLP
Russian map of TLP
Roger's Lunar Page
NASA TLP archives
Light Side of the Moon
Peter Grego's Fortean Times articles
Lunar anomalies homepage

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