If you happened to be looking up at the moon on March 17, you may have been able to observe the brightest lunar impact ever recorded.
On the night of March 17, if you were looking at the moon at just the right moment, you may have noticed a bright flash of light. NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office has revealed that that flash was the result of a boulder-sized meteor slamming into the moon. This meteor impact has been the brightest impact seen on the moon in the eight year history of the monitoring program.
"We have seen a couple of others in the 'wow' category but not this bright," said manager of NASA's Lunar Impact Monitoring Program Robert Suggs. Suggs works at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville in Alabama, and says that of the 300 or so lunar impact events that have been logged over the years, the impact on March 17 was by far the brightest.
Suggs first noticed the impact on one of The NASA monitoring program's 14-inch telescopes. For about one second, the blast shone as bright as a 4th magnitude star. "It was so bright!" he recalled. Researchers estimate that the meteor was about 40 kg and 0.4 meters wide. It crashed into the moon at speeds of 56,000 miles per hour, releasing as much energy as five tons of TNT. They believe the resulting crater will be about 20 meters wide.
Bill Cook, another researcher for the program, believes that the lunar impact may have been part of a much larger event. On the same night as the lunar explosion, Cook says that a large number of deep-penetrating meteors were detected hitting the Earth's surface. He is working on a hypothesis that the Earth-moon system plowed through a stream of material that pelted both worlds with meteoroids.
The purpose of the program is to monitor new forms of space debris to see if they pose any kind of threat to Earth. NASA scientists believe that this recent lunar impact is a prime candidate of that goal.
The program's data could also help prepare for potential long-term manned missions to the moon.
Source: Science at NASA