Meteorite strikes the moon face with the force of 15 tons of TNT. The impact was powerful enough to cause an eight second after glow as bright as the North Star, bright enough for people on Earth to see with the naked eye. The meteorite is estimated to have been about four and half feet in diameter and to have weight nearly 900 pounds. Although lunar impacts are quite common, this one is distinct in that it caused the brightest and longest impact flash yet recorded. The impact was captured by two Spanish telescopes that are part of the Moon Impact Detection Analysis System (MIDAS) led by Jose Madiedo at the University of Huelva in Spain. It is estimated that 100 tons of debris from space fall through the atmosphere everyday, and through research conducted by the MIDAS team, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how celestial objects on a collision course with the Earth might behave.
The impact occurred on September 11th 2013 and caused a crater estimated to be 130 feet wide in the Mare Nubium region. The meteorite was travelling more than 37,900 miles per hour, but despite the light show it caused on the surface of the moon, had it struck the Earth instead it would not have had nearly as much impact. Because the moon lacks the protective covering we of Earth provided by our thick atmosphere, all estimates say it would have just burned up on entry. MIDAS observations have led to the realization that almost ten times more celestial debris strikes the Earth than was realized, but the atmosphere is apparently more effective at destroying small objects than was previously thought. Meteorites rarely reach the Earths surface, except for the meteorite that fell over Russias Ural region in February 2013. After the damage caused after a meteorite strikes the moons face, the chance that large objects could loom out of space on a course to strike the Earth, makes it imperative for us to learn as much as possible.
NASA has observed over 300 lunar impacts since 2005, and this latest event is causing excitement. Because the impact was so fierce and the crater site is so large, there is an enormous amount of data to be gathered about the origin of the meteorite. Identifying what sector of space it originated from will help to identify what features to look for when searching for potentially dangerous areas. This applies both to concerns over Earth strikes or vessels sent out on future space exploration missions. Tracking down portions of space that are more cluttered with debris will make planning and navigating in advance much easier, and allow observers to focus on watching areas that are known to have concentrations of potential meteorites. Gleaning as much information as possible when a meteorite strikes the moons face is about more than just safe guards however, there is a very real chance that a deep space object could provide clues to questions people have been asking for centuries, regarding the nature of things, and the part we play.
By Daniel O’Brien