JAN 23, 2019 6:35 PM PST

A Meteorite Slammed Into the Moon During the Recent Lunar Eclipse

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

If you were one of the millions of avid stargazers who prepared their binoculars and telescopes to observe this past weekend’s super blood wolf moon eclipse, then you may have been in for a treat (assuming the weather didn’t obstruct your view).

In this image, we see the white dot on the lunar surface depicting the unexpected meteorite strike during this past weekend's lunar eclipse.

Image Credit: Griffith Observatory via New York Times

Just as we elucidated in our original announcement, the occurrence represented an elegant alignment of various infrequent events: A Super Moon, a Blood Moon, and a Wolf Moon all in one sitting. But if you looked closely enough at just the right moment, then you might’ve recognized something else that seemed out of the ordinary: a lunar meteorite strike.

Indeed; just when it seemed like the lunar view couldn’t get any more awe-inspiring, it did. While astronomers associated with the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) had their telescopes dialed into the Moon that night, they happened upon a peculiar white flash in the top left of the frame:

Related: In case you missed it, here's a time-lapse video of this past weekend's lunar eclipse

At first, astronomers thought this observation was some camera glitch; but it didn’t take long before observatories around the globe reported witnessing a similar anomaly in precisely the same spot on the Moon’s surface. The redundant reports indicated how this was no camera glitch, but instead a visual confirmation that a space rock had impacted the lunar surface.

According to several reports, the flash presented itself at approximately 4:41 Universal Time (11:41 P.M. Eastern time) during the totality phase of the lunar eclipse. During this phase, the Moon would have been its dimmest, making it easy for observation equipment to capture the seemingly-insignificant flash.

The lunar surface is no stranger to space rock impacts; its severely-cratered appearance is evidence of this. The Moon lacks a robust atmosphere like Earth’s, which means meteorites can effortlessly bombard the lunar surface without so much as an ounce of resistance. On Earth, meteorites meet so much resistance that most break apart before touching down.

Regardless of their regularity, it’s still rather astounding to think that a visible meteorite strike would transpire on the same night of the super blood wolf moon eclipse. It’s as if the Moon wanted to put on a great show, and that it did. Furthermore, it’s fortunate that astronomers were paying attention because something this small would have been easy to miss otherwise.

“This is something that people all around the world didn't know that they were going to sign up for,” commented Noah Petro, a scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Related: So just how old is the Moon anyway?

We’re not expecting another total lunar eclipse until at least May 2020, but we can bet that MIDAS and other observational groups will be keeping a close watch, just in case something like this occurs again.

Source: NYTimes, National Geographic, Reddit

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