Our solar system may be well over 4.6 billion years old but it’s still a very active place, and in case you’d somehow forgotten that fact here’s a video of our very own lovely moon getting hit by a meteorite traveling an estimated 38,000 mph (61,000 km/h).
The footage was captured on camera on Sept. 11, 2013, by researchers J.M. Madiedo, J.L. Ortiz, and collaborators at the University of Huelva in southwestern Spain. Part of the MIDAS (Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis Software) project, the team’s observations are designed to detect such impacts by monitoring the lunar night side for bright flashes like the one above.
This particular impact is thought to have been caused by an 880-pound (400 kg) object two to four and a half feet (0.6-1.4 meters) wide. It struck the moon within the Mare Nubium region, one of the darker lava-flow “seas” which make up the “Man in the Moon” face. Because that part of the Moon wasn’t directly illuminated by the sun at the time, the impact flash and resulting thermal glow was visible to the MIDAS team.
For a brief few moments the impact site was even brighter than the North Star — which at 2nd magnitude is far from the most brilliant star in the sky, yes, but this was still a bright impact!
Because the moon lacks any substantial atmosphere, we don’t see meteors streaking down toward its surface or exploding at high altitudes like what happened over Chelyabinsk in Feb. 2013. It’s just the sudden flash of a direct hit at full space velocity, and the gradual dimming of the leftover heat.
It’s estimated that the Sept. 2013 impact released the energy equivalent of 15 tons of TNT, and may have excavated a crater 130 feet (40 meters) across. It was the brightest, longest confirmed impact flash ever captured on camera.
Just for comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor was much larger — 19 meters wide with an aerial explosion equal to almost 600,000 tons of TNT.
According to Madiedo and the MIDAS team, their findings have shown that the impact rate on Earth (which is directly related to the lunar impact rate, for obvious reasons) is an order of magnitude higher than previously thought. And so, as Neil Tyson said… how’s that space program coming along?
Watch a more in-depth video presentation by J. M. Madiedo and J. L. Ortiz here.
Video credit: José Maria Madiedo, University of Huelva. HT to Skymania.