What Are These Strange-Looking Things on the Moon?

The Moon.

David Willacy/EyeEm/Getty Images

There's a lot we know about the Moon: it's roughly one-sixth the size of the Earth, is about 4.6 billion years old, is approximately 238,000 miles distant from the Earth, has no atmosphere, and is covered with a fine gray powder. We've walked on the Moon during six Apollo missions, and we've sent many more probes there to map it and study it.

But there's much we don't know about it, too. We're not sure where it came from. Some think it might be a broken-off chunk of Earth. Although there's evidence that the Moon once had active volcanoes, we're not sure if it's still geologically active.

The Moon has more controversial mysteries, too. Some think aliens have or once had bases there. Some think there's stuff on the Moon — other than the Apollo debris — that the government knows about but is not telling us. There are many enigmatic photos that seem to show shapes and structures on the lunar surface that don't fit conventional explanations.

Here's a look at some of those lunar anomalies.

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'The Shard' or 'the Tower'

An anomalous shard or plume on the Moon.

This one, in a photo snapped by the Lunar Orbiter, has been named "the shard" or "the tower," by Richard C. Hoagland, who comments on this photo at "Richard Hoagland's Lunar Anomalies." Taken from a distance of about 250 miles, the strange structure (if that's what it is) would be enormous — seven miles high, by Hoagland's calculations. (The star-like shape above the tower is a camera registration mark.)

It's difficult to believe that such a huge structure actually stands on the moon. So what are we seeing in this photo? Is it a plume of "smoke" from some lunar gaseous emission? Are we seeing the ejecta from a meteorite impact?

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The Castle

Picture of what looks like castle ruins on the Moon.

This strange object, photographed during an Apollo mission, has been named "the castle" by Richard C. Hoagland of The Enterprise Mission. It seems to have a definite structure, like the wall of an ancient building. The bottom looks as if it has rows of support columns, above which is a high spire. Whatever it is, it's much brighter than the surrounding landscape. Is it just a trick of light and shadow? A photographic anomaly? Or is it all that remains of some rich Martian's getaway retreat?

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Ukert Crater

A strange triangle shape in a lunar crater.

The Ukert crater, located near the center of the moon as it is viewed from the Earth, contains this amazing equilateral triangle. According to "Luna: Arcologies on the Moon," each side of the triangle is 16 miles in length. And note the three bright objects around the perimeter of the crater — if they are joined by straight lines, they too would form an equilateral triangle. Is this evidence of intelligent design, or is it merely a fantastic coincidence?

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Strange Reflection

An odd reflection in an Apollo 12 astronaut's helmet.

This one comes directly from a famous photo taken during the second Apollo mission to land on the moon, Apollo 12. Astronaut Pete Conrad took this shot of Alan Bean as they stood on the lunar surface. You can see Conrad in the reflection in Bean's visor. You can also see some instrumentation in the foreground of the reflection.

But what the heck is that thing hovering in the sky in the background, pointed out here as "artifact" by "Luna: Astronauts Among the Ruins"? You can even see the shadow it casts on the ground behind Conrad. It's been seen as everything from a UFO to a hanging light fixture by those who think the Apollo landings were faked. Yet this photo is really puzzling. We can usually find reasonable, or at least plausible, explanations for the other photos shown here and elsewhere, but this one is truly enigmatic.

What about it, NASA? What the heck is that thing?

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An unknown shape passing across the Moon.

Lunascan Project 

Strange things have been spotted on the moon for centuries — usually flashes of light or color, or lights that appear to move across the lunar surface. These are known as transient lunar phenomena (TLP), and many of the reports, dating from 1540 to 1969, have been cataloged by NASA and amateur astronomers.

Such flashes of light and color could be attributed to meteor impacts or perhaps some kind of gaseous emissions, but harder to explain are the "fastwalkers" that have been videotaped by several amateur observers. This one, from the now-defunct Lunascan Project, is a capture from a video taken by an amateur Japanese astronomer several years ago.

The dark object (circled in the upper photo and pointed out in the close-up in the lower photo) moved from north to south over an unknown distance above the lunar surface. What could account for this anomaly? A satellite orbiting the moon? (It would have to be enormous to show up like this.) A satellite orbiting the Earth that happened to cross the observer's field of view as he or she was videotaping the moon? So what could the unexplained object be?

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Lunar Cylinder

AN unknown, cylinder-shaped object on the Moon.

This strange object was photographed by an astronaut on one of the Apollo moon missions. It definitely looks artificial. It seems to have a cylindrical shape, but we have no frame of reference to tell how large it might be. It could be as small as a soda can, as big as a barrel, or as huge as a farm silo.

What is it and who left it there?