Lunar X is a famous optical feature on the moon, visible through telescopes. When the terminator – or line between light and dark on the moon – is located in just the right place, it appears as the letter X on the moon’s surface. A sign of an alien visitation? No. Lunar X is a great example of how lighting and topography can combine on a planet or moon to produce a pattern that seems familiar to the human eye.
In reality, the illusion of Lunar X is created by sunlight falling on the rims/ridges between the craters La Caille, Blanchinus, and Purbach.
In the case of Lunar X, the pattern repeats at each cycle of the moon, but only for a short time. The X is observable for about 4 hours around the first quarter moon phase.
Bottom line: Lunar X is an optical feature on the moon, an apparent X on the moon’s surface, visible through telescopes. It’s caused by sunlight falling on the rims/ridges between the craters La Caille, Blanchinus, and Purbach.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.