Strange reflecting light “anomalies” on the Moon have become a mystery for scientists
Planetary scientists have discovered strange “anomalies” in the particles that reflect sunlight covering lunar rocks, which have an average size of about a meter. This study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets, could help scientists better understand the processes that formed and changed the lunar crust and created the puzzling magnetic anomalies. But for now, at least, the strange rocks and dust particles remain an unsolved mystery.
Researchers came across these extraterrestrial dust clumps while looking through a catalog of images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. With the help of artificial intelligence, they looked at more than a million images and narrowed the number of stones of interest to about 130,000.
“We continue to find unknown objects in this way, such as the anomalous rocks we study in this new study,” study co-author Valentin Bickel of the University of Bern said in a press statement.
They saw that some of the rocks around Rainer K Crater, a smaller impact crater next to the large Rainer Crater on the moon’s west side, had visible dark spots. “Usually lunar dust is very porous and reflects a lot of light back in the direction the light is coming from,” explained Marcel Hess, an image analysis specialist at the Technical University of Dortmund. “However, when the dust is compacted, its brightness usually increases. This cannot be said for the dust-covered rocks we observe.”
The team described the stones’ strange reflective properties using photometric analysis, which measures how light reflects off objects.
Researchers suspect that the dust-covered boulders were scattered by a crater impact. However, not all of the boulders around the Rainier K crater were covered in unexplained dust.
What kind of dust it is and why it settled only on one stone, and not on another, still remains a mystery. The authors of the study suggest that this may be related to the physical features of the lunar landscape, the microscopic structure of the stones themselves, the static properties of the dust, or the magnetic field of the Moon. The Rainier Gamma region, where the craters are located, is known for its high magnetization.
Researchers hope that NASA’s upcoming lunar mission, Lunar Vertex, which will collect samples from this region, will shed light on this dusty mystery. The mission will also map Rainer Gumm’s magnetic field to find out how some parts of the Moon acquired characteristic swirls and irregularities. This will help planetary scientists to understand not only how the Moon formed, but also other astronomical objects in our solar system with thin or absent atmospheres.