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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.

Comments

  1. Greg
    michigan
    September 8, 2013, 7:16 pm

    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.

  2. Fox
    August 17, 2013, 11:18 am

    Good…………

  3. Frank
    Tumwater, WA
    June 12, 2013, 1:28 am

    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.

  4. lili ly
    baton rouge
    June 11, 2013, 10:07 am

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

  5. gopal haldar
    khargpur
    June 4, 2013, 8:03 am

    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 .

  6. Sattino
    Indonesia
    June 4, 2013, 12:19 am

    USE THE EQUATION

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

  7. Clarence Hagmeier
    Petrolia, Cal.
    June 1, 2013, 8:40 pm

    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.

  8. karim khelifi
    June 1, 2013, 6:27 am

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

  9. karim khelifi
    Alger
    June 1, 2013, 6:25 am

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

  10. Nasir Baluch
    Baluchistan
    June 1, 2013, 5:02 am

    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.

  11. Nasir
    Baluchistan
    June 1, 2013, 4:57 am

    Amazing but not charming.

  12. Bob Sanderson
    Oscoda, Michigan
    May 31, 2013, 9:19 pm

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

  13. basma salti
    Tripoli, Lebanon
    May 31, 2013, 6:35 pm

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

  14. ian davies
    uk
    May 31, 2013, 12:26 pm

    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 ,

  15. tex bacalian
    Dubai, UAE
    May 30, 2013, 5:42 pm

    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.

  16. nayy
    Some crazy place...
    May 23, 2013, 4:20 pm

    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!

  17. ashok r raut
    Bangalore
    May 23, 2013, 5:47 am

    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.

  18. Alex Arellano
    los angeles
    May 22, 2013, 4:39 pm

    Cool Beans

  19. nayy
    dscafd,fajkfj
    May 21, 2013, 7:04 pm

    This is cool

  20. Scotty Ward
    Rockford,Illinois
    May 21, 2013, 2:05 am

    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!

  21. amit subedi
    nepal at chitwan,tandi
    May 19, 2013, 10:29 pm

    Strange thing had occured

  22. Kacee
    Norway
    May 19, 2013, 3:24 pm

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

  23. Rumon
    Dhaka,bangladesh
    May 19, 2013, 8:58 am

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

  24. João Carlos Sá Pavanelli
    Brasil/Rio de Janeiro/sudeste.
    May 19, 2013, 5:31 am

    ” 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.

  25. Tanay kumar Das
    krishnagar,Nadia
    May 19, 2013, 1:40 am

    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.

  26. some internet dude
    May 18, 2013, 7:51 pm

    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.

  27. sylvia Gilbert
    wirral uk
    May 18, 2013, 6:32 pm

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

  28. Rick
    Houston, Texas
    May 18, 2013, 1:49 pm

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

  29. David Ridge
    May 18, 2013, 1:06 pm

    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.

  30. alan
    posen
    May 18, 2013, 12:52 pm

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

  31. Charles McFarland
    Kansas
    May 18, 2013, 9:01 am

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

  32. winfred able
    Earth
    May 18, 2013, 1:57 am

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

  33. C K DAWAR
    MUMBAI INDIA
    May 18, 2013, 1:42 am

    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.

  34. abhijeet
    india
    May 18, 2013, 12:15 am

    UFO Anomolies ….?

  35. ramalingeswara reddy.y
    bangalore
    May 17, 2013, 11:57 pm

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

  36. mohsin Raza
    Pakistan
    May 17, 2013, 11:01 pm

    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.

  37. Afterburner
    Alaska
    May 17, 2013, 10:40 pm

    There hererrrrrrrrrrrr!

  38. sgreco
    May 17, 2013, 10:39 pm

    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.

  39. Bryce
    Earth
    May 17, 2013, 8:54 pm

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

  40. Franko
    NY
    May 17, 2013, 8:35 pm

    Oh snap, it landed right on the Apollo site.

  41. jim butler phd biochemist
    washington state
    May 17, 2013, 7:58 pm

    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

  42. Lynda
    New Hampshire
    May 17, 2013, 7:29 pm

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

  43. M.Mazur
    May 17, 2013, 5:58 pm

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