Changing Planet

NASA Announces Brightest Lunar Explosion Ever Recorded

An artist illustration of a meteor impacting the moon and resulting in an explosion that can be visible from Earth skies. Credit: NASA
An artist illustration of a meteor impacting the moon and resulting in an explosion that can be visible from Earth skies.
Credit: NASA

 

A boulder-sized meteor slammed into the moon in March, igniting an explosion so bright that anyone looking up at the right moment might have spotted it, NASA announced Friday.

NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office is reporting the discovery of the brightest impact seen on the moon in the eight year history of the monitoring program.

Some 300 lunar impact events have been logged over the years but this latest impact, from March 17, is considered many orders of magnitude brighter than anything else observed.

“We have seen a couple of others in the ‘wow’ category but not this bright,” said Robert Suggs, manager of NASA’s Lunar Impact Monitoring Program at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The blast lasted only about a single second and shone like a 4th magnitude star—making it bright enough to see with just the unaided eye.

Frame from NASA telescope video capturing lunar flash on March 17, 2013.  Credit: NASA/Robert Suggs
Frame from NASA telescope video capturing lunar flash on March 17, 2013. Credit: NASA/Robert Suggs

 

The NASA monitoring program’s 14-inch telescope was the first to snag an image of the lunar explosion. Analyzing the images, researchers estimate that the object probably weighed in at 40 kg (88 pounds) and was about 0.4 meters (1.4 feet) wide. It crashed into the moon at speeds of 56,000 miles (90,000 km) per hour, releasing as much energy as five tons of TNT.

Scientists hope to corroborate the impact with close-up photography from a NASA spacecraft  orbiting the moon.

“They are planning to image that location in hopes of finding the crater which would be very significant scientifically,” Suggs said.

On the same night as the impact, two fireball detection networks independently captured an unusually large number of bright meteors streaking through Earth’s skies. NASA scientists are working on a hypothesis that the Earth-moon system plowed through a stream of material that pelted both worlds with meteoroids.

But “this big impact doesn’t seem to be associated with any of the major showers,” said Suggs.

About half of the observed meteor strikes on the moon are thought to be associated with major meteor showers like the August Perseids and the December Geminds. (Related: Perseid Meteor Shower—And Moon Flashes—Peaks Saturday)

Backyard astronomers who have 8-inch or larger telescopes and equipped with video cameras can paricipate in NASA’s effort to capture lunar flashes. (See NASA’s guide to observing lunar flashes.)

The space agency uses the backyard-telescope data as part of its program to determine lunar meteor sizes and strike rates, data that could help prepare for potential long-term manned missions to the moon.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • M.Mazur

    Roland please let me know if you receive this article.
    Mike

  • Lynda

    wow! Wish i’d have seen it, amazing. Glad it didn’t hit us

  • jim butler phd biochemist

    The moon has no atmosphere which does not allow any burn up of meteors.

    We have been hit this year in Russia aas well making it a routine occurrence

  • Franko

    Oh snap, it landed right on the Apollo site.

  • Bryce

    Remember when Artist Illustration meant something? Seems like any jackass over the age of 3 can do NASA illustrations these days.

  • sgreco

    A lot of random, large meteor impacts and near-misses in such a short time. Seems to me the odds are good that many more are on the way, and one might hit us.

  • Afterburner

    There hererrrrrrrrrrrr!

  • mohsin Raza

    that is the info for world destroying near according to Islamic point of view because some symptoms are start from bay brightening of moon.
    thanks.

  • ramalingeswara reddy.y

    First thanks to the reporter n its intresting matter about that.

  • abhijeet

    UFO Anomolies ….?

  • C K DAWAR

    IT IS THRILLING & FASCINATING TO SEE SUCH A COLORFUL EXPLOSION OF NATURE HAPPEN SO MANY LIGHT YEAR AWAY IN GALAXY IS CAPTURED BY OUR EQUIPMENT SENT IN GALAXY BY OUR OWN CREAM OF THE GLOBE, CONGRATULATION TO ALL & ALL THE BEST AS DESIRE HAS NO END, CURIOSITY TO EXPLORE OF LEARNING & KNOWING PROCESS. OUR 1ST GURU OF PUNJABI COMMUNITY SHREE. GURUNANAK DEVJI SAID IN THEIR TEACHINGS IN 400 YRS BEFORE, LAKHS & LAKHS SKIES ARE IN GALAXY, NOW YOU ARE PROVING SCIENTIFICALLY WITH ABOVE KIND OF PHOTOGRAPHS.
    PRAY ALMIGHTY TO GRANT YOU ALL MORE & MORE WISDOM FOR USING THIS TECHNOLOGY & INFORMATIONS FOR THE UPLIFTMENT OF THE MANKIND OF THIS UNIVERSE. ALL THE BEST & GOD BLESS.

  • winfred able

    It’s awesome. Do you have any videos of that? I wanna see the video. Thanks for sharing!!!!

  • Charles McFarland

    Were any of the old Apollo seismic devices still active so they could monitor the impact?

  • alan

    that could be n.korea’s ..litte kim

  • David Ridge

    Have they discovered why the empty corridor is in the middle?
    And the so called “man in the moon” appears like a shadow of a map of the Earth.

  • Rick

    ………….and there will signs in the sun, the moon, and in the stars……………………

  • sylvia Gilbert

    Could the dust of moon reach air from being hit by meteor and if so ehat effect would this have on earth.

  • some internet dude

    I wonder why no one was given a heads up that this was coming, would of been nice to look up at about that time.

  • Tanay kumar Das

    I think a NEW MOON will be created through this explosion same as when etheria clushed the earth & lastly moon was created.Though this lunar explosion is small in width but it is no matter. It had produced huge amount of energy and so from this, I personally think that there will create a new moon in future and I has named it MOON 2.because nothing is impossible.

  • João Carlos Sá Pavanelli

    ” Ser homem, é conhecer.” Porém, o conhecimento tem limi-
    tes. A compreensão do Cosmos, é um desses limites. A Obra
    manifestada é imensamente, complexa. Nem a mecânica quãntica e a Teoria da Relatividade de Einstein, conseguem
    totalizar esse conhecimento/Cosmos. A teoria das cordas, tenta unificar as duas citadas anteriormente, porém, não consegue. O Cosmos, sempre, nos transcende!
    João Carlos Sá Pavanelli.

  • Rumon

    Wow. . . . Its really tremendous. . . .

  • Kacee

    At what time was this observed happening? And where on the earth could you see this with an unaided eye?

  • amit subedi

    Strange thing had occured

  • Scotty Ward

    I love anything that has to do with the cosmos or universe and it still puzzles me how a stone “meteorite” that weighs 88lbs,traveling at 55,000+ can slam into the moon with enough energy to cause an explosion with the equivalent of 10,000lbs or 5 tons of tnt.WOW!

  • nayy

    This is cool

  • Alex Arellano

    Cool Beans

  • ashok r raut

    Whenever I come across such “Universal news”, I feel the creator of the universe is very much active on the earth and outside Earth.It make me think that what he/she /it thinks about me/us.It also gives me opportunity to thank him/she /it for for making so many special provisions for us on the Earth like O2,H20,plants, intelligence,life . It will be a great day when I will be able to interact with him/she it. Such meteorites rarely crush a human being on Earth. That is his protection and Love for all of us.

  • nayy

    Wow. Just… wow. SOOOO COOL I wish I was there to witness it in my backyard (can you see it from anywhere?) Wow giant big explosion wowowowow!

  • tex bacalian

    A new crater must have formed with this meteor hit. I’m just wondering, that meteor that hit the moon must have whizzed past Earth because the moon does not rotate in an axis.

  • ian davies

    there were no injuries, president obama says we still have to be vigilant because terrorists are lurking everywhere, no stone will be left unturned in finding their location , mi6 say they are probably being harbored by islamic extremists on the dark side of the moon ,

  • basma salti

    i am so exiting so much as i love to know everything about the speace and stars and planets wowwwww

  • Bob Sanderson

    E=mc’2
    A great example of this formula’s effect.

  • Nasir

    Amazing but not charming.

  • Nasir Baluch

    Its a matter of fun for space lovers. But hardly one could see up and focus in a single second on our single brightest moon. Could bring charm if reported prior than the incident.

  • karim khelifi

    hello ….
    Moon image is beautiful but not clear
    Thank you

  • karim khelifi

    i love national geographic
    Moon image is beautiful but not clear
    Thank you

  • Clarence Hagmeier

    E=mc2 makes it a little less puzzling, though still pretty awe inspiring. The energy of an object equals the mass times the the speed squared. Even a grain of sand going 55,000 MPH has quite a wallop. It’s why a .22 bullet, which is pretty small,is still a bad thing to get in the way of. It’s also why speed limits save lives.

  • Sattino

    USE THE EQUATION

    1/2 MVxV where V=56,000 miles/hour?

  • gopal haldar

    First of all ,I would like thanks to NASA. I am too much interested in space and universe . I always think and try to do some thing different and always try to know about NASA’s explorations. Now I am working as a Junior Project Assistant at Rubber Technology Centre IIT Kharagpur .

  • lili ly

    Those were not one big stone. some lunar meteorites were weighted of 88 lbs because I knew. they are mine

  • Frank

    Hey Scotty, the answer to your (implied) question is found in basic physics. The energy imparted is called kinetic energy and is equal to one half of the product of an object’s mass and the square of its speed. (1/2 mv^2) Essentially the speed is FAR more significant than the mass.

  • Fox

    Good…………

  • Greg

    To answer a few comments. NASA doesn’t track objects that small in space so there would be no warning to tell us the flash occurred. Dust from the moon impacts would not reach earth. Not enough escape velocity.

    The video cameras are relatively low density they are astronomy video cameras, like the Stellacam 3 designed for low light but with a 640 by 480 or near that size chip. These record video from more than one volunteer site, tracking the moon. If a flash is detected the various camera outputs are checked to make sure it actually was a flash on the moon from different vantage points. NASA has software that allows users to test and look for faint flashes on the video file that we might not see watching the video naked eye. The videos are time date stamped so flashes can be matched. This gets rid of false alarms confirming the flash. It’s much less likely to see a short flash viewing naked eye on the eyepiece, than with a recording camera that is recording video. They aren’t using typical astrophotography cameras either, they are using low light video cameras to detect these flashes which record AVI movie files at high frame rates.

  • Michael Williamson

    The moon does rotate on axis but the same side always faces the earth. There’s probably been other impacts seen by people but dismissed by anyone saying it was your eyes playing tricks. I would think that a lunar Seismometer would have picked up some impacts if that program was allowed to go forward? The moon is a real vaccume cleaner as the surface shows, it has probably saved earth from several extinction level impacts, just happens to be just the right distance and mass to give us tides and do ‘hybrid’ eclipses, but seek not a sign, right, no too much of a happenstance to point to intelligent design?

  • Michael Williamson

    Don’t dismiss so easily that some fragments of the moon could reach escape velocity from this impact, the escape velocity of the moon is considerably less than the ~18,000mph of the earth since it is one 1/6th the mass of the earth and 1/4th the size and made of green swiss cheese? Just a joke, but seriously, I have seen a ‘tektite about the same size as one I have, on display at REDSTONE ROCKET RANGE an I have to d some of them may have came from lunar impacts, many may not have. wonder how much stuff the Earth vacuums up every year that contributes to the atmosphere since so much of it is comet tail dust and stuff that vaporizes in the atmosphere? Having seen a phenomenal shower of meteors that kept smoking in well past the twilight on a early fall morning about 14yrs ago,
    when I had to be at work before 8am it left me wondering how much of that comes in that is not seen before 12 noon on many days.

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