Scientists confirm that a space rock hit the moon during lunar eclipse


The impact flash of a meteoroid on the eclipsed moon in early 2019, seen as the dot in the upper left corner.
Extend / The impact flash of a meteoroid on the eclipsed moon in early 2019, seen as the dot in the upper left corner.

J. M. Madiedo / MIDAS

On January 19, 2019, a lunar eclipse dazzled observers throughout the Americas (and a small part of Africa and Europe). After the event, some had watched reported seeing a very brief flash.

Two days later, when the buzz began to form over the eclipse, Oxford University astronomer Chris Lintott tweeted, "If you have images of the lunar eclipse at 4.41 GMT, check your image carefully … There may have been an impact during the eclipse!" In brief, high quality static images of impact began to emerge. Later, some videos worked too.

Now, four Spanish scientists have published a detailed analysis of the impact Monthly Notices from the Royal Astronomical Society which estimates the size of the object, its origin and the impact it left on the lunar surface. They based their estimates on observations made by five f / 10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes in Seville, Spain. Clear weather provided the telescope with an uninterrupted view of the eclipse during the entire event.

"This is the first impact flash recorded unequivocally on the Moon during a lunar eclipse and discussed in the scientific literature," the authors wrote.

The night of the lunar eclipse in early 2019 did not coincide with any major meteor shower on Earth, and based on its analysis, Spanish scientists said they were 99% certain that the impact was associated with a random or "sporadic" . the kind of meteors people on Earth see in the night sky when there are no active meteor showers.

The meteor attack created only a brief flash, lasting only 0.28 seconds, and reached a peak magnitude of 4.2, about the same brightness as Jupiter's moon Ganymede from Earth. Based on various measurements and inferences, scientists estimated that the impactor had a mass of 45 kg and left a crater with a diameter of 10 to 15 meters on the Moon. This should be observable with a spacecraft such as NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter , which circulates the Moon since 2009.

Astronomers, of course, have observed many impacts on the Moon throughout their history – indeed, these Spanish scientists are part of the Moon Impact Analysis and Detection System, or MIDAS, designed to do just that kind of observation.

These impacts can be reasonably clear because the Moon does not have an atmosphere, so some attacks hit the lunar surface at a speed of 30 km / s, releasing a flash of light and heat that can be seen from Earth. (The impact of the lunar eclipse of 2019 was estimated at a speed of 17 km / s).

Before NASA sends humans to the Moon, perhaps permanently to a surface station, it is a good idea to have a better understanding of how the meteoroid collision is common on the surface. In fact, NASA concluded in 2016 that the meteoroid impact rate was higher than scientists originally believed.


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