Monday, October 02, 2006

Fall, Moonquakes, TLP, and space words...

The arrival of Fall in LA is a subtle but definite event. The light changes, the sky has clouds, the days grow shorter, and nights are noticeably cooler. Somehow all of this briefly snaps the attention away from the "endless summer" effect, and we become, momentarily, aware of the Earth as a living, breathing animal of sorts. I arrived in LA in the Fall, so maybe that's why my nerves are stippled with lurching earthquake "pangs" at this time of year (all new Californians expect immanet quakes).

Most people don't know that there are regular quakes on the Moon. They were first discovered by the Apollo astronauts. They tend to be mild; however, shallow moonquakes can register up to 5.5 on the Richter scale. One possible explanation is that relatively young craters may shift and slump. Moonquakes may be responsible for something called "transient lunar phenomena" (TLP). These are lights, colors, or changes in the landscape claimed to be observed on the moon. Usually short-lived (or "transient"), such phenomena have been observed since at least the 1500s, and some have been observed independently by multiple witnesses, or by reputable scientists. On April 23, 1999, amateur observers reported another TLP event in the vicinity of the "Cobra Head", the name for the bulbous start of the Vallis Schröteri adjacent to the Aristarchus crater. The Clementine spacecraft took before and after pictures of this region, and definite color changes were observed.

The lunar names are all so spectacular. Space names in general. Who's in charge of that gig? What are the criteria for naming? Does a name have to sound awe-inspiringly cool and celestial in order to function? Has that metric been quantified?

("Aristarchus and Herodotus Craters" taken from orbit during Apollo 15 mission)


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