Last January, astronomers managed to capture the moment a space rock hit the moon during a total lunar eclipse. Now, learn about this unprecedented event, including the speed of the offensive object and the intense temperatures reached during the impact.
Our moon is regularly dumped by deposits left over from the formation of the solar system. Our natural satellite, however, has no atmosphere, so that celestial objects of different sizes are unimpeded and penetrate with tremendous speed into the lunar surface. Astronomers have managed to capture the strange effects of the moon over the years, but the one conquered during the lunar eclipse of January 21, 2019 was a first for science.
A new study released late last week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society sheds new light on this unique event, including updated estimates of the speed and size of the meteoroid, the energy expelled during the impact, and the size of the new moon crater.
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For the main authors of the new study, José Madiedo from the University of Huelva and José Ortiz from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia The event was a highlight Years of preparation, not to mention years of great patience. Madiedo and Ortiz are involved in the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS), which uses a series of telescopes and software to detect the moment a meteoroid encounters dark areas of the lunar surface. MIDAS telescopes are equipped with high-sensitivity video cameras (the system can detect flashes lasting up to 0.001 seconds) and photometric filters to determine the temperatures generated by the shocks.
MIDAS has managed to capture numerous effects on the Moon since the system's inception in the late 1990s, but the lightning that was captured during the total lunar eclipse last January – those precious and fleeting moments in which the Earth casts a shadow over the entire face of the Moon – was a first for the project.
"This is the first time that one Impact flash during a lunar eclipse is clearly detected and discussed in the scientific literature, and the first time that lunar impact observations occur in more than two wavelengths, "write the authors of the new study. As mentioned previously, the MIDAS telescopes recorded the event at multiple wavelengths of light or different colors of light, providing a high-resolution view of the impact.
As an added benefit, telescopes from around the world were trained on the Moon at that very moment, providing a whole range of data used in the new analysis.
Okay, on the good things – the actual results.
The impact produced a flash that lasted a very short 0.28 seconds and became as bright as a star of magnitude 4.2, meaning that it was visible to the naked eye. The space rock hit the moon near the Lagrange H crater, which is near the southwestern edge or visible edge of the moon.
The meteoroid weighed about 45 kilograms, which is just under 100 pounds, and measured somewhere between 30 and 60 centimeters in diameter (11.8 to 23.6 inches). Previously, the researchers had estimated the object at about 10 kg, so it was heavier than previously thought.
When the meteoroid hit the moon, it was traveling at a speed of 61,000 km / h (37,900 miles per hour). The energy released by the impact was 1.5 tons (1.65 US tons). The debris ejected by the collision reached a temperature of 5,400 degrees Celsius (9,752 degrees Fahrenheit) – a temperature comparable to the solar surface. The resulting crater now measures 15 meters.
"It would be impossible to reproduce these high-speed collisions in a laboratory on Earth," Madiedo said in a press release. "Watching lightning is a great way to test our ideas on what exactly happens when a meteorite collides with the moon."
These intriguing insights have a practical aspect. Not only can scientists learn about the lunar-earth environment, but they can also assess the safety of the lunar surface for future explorers and habitats.