Super-Bright Explosion Seen on the Moon

by Nancy Atkinson on May 17, 2013

Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

A bright flash on the Moon on March 17, 2013 when a boulder-sized asteroid hit the lunar surface.

A bright flash on the Moon on March 17, 2013 when a boulder-sized asteroid hit the lunar surface.

If you were looking up at the Moon on March 17, 2013 at 03:50:55 UTC, you might have seen one of the brightest “lunar flashes” ever witnessed. And it would have been visible with just the naked eye.

“On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we’ve ever seen before.”

The scientists estimate that the flash came from a 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide hitting the Moon, likely traveling about 90,000 km/hr (56,000 mph.) The resulting explosion packed as much punch as 5 tons of TNT.

(FYI, lunar meteors hit the ground with so much kinetic energy that they don’t require an oxygen atmosphere to create a visible explosion. The flash of light comes not from combustion but rather from the thermal glow of molten rock and hot vapors at the impact site.)

The crater could be as wide as 20 meters. The scientists for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter are hoping to image the impact site the next time the spacecraft passes over the area. It should be relatively easy to spot, and lunar scientists are always on the lookout for recent impacts. Additionally, comparing the size of the crater to the brightness of the flash would give researchers a valuable “ground truth” measurement to validate lunar impact models.

Were you observing the Moon that night? Universe Today’s David Dickinson pointed out to me that it is quite possible an amateur could have caught it; however no amateur images have surfaced yet. The Moon would’ve been a waxing crescent and visible to the Pacific region and US West Coast at the time. If you have archived images or video, it might be worth a look. And we’d love to hear from you if you happened to catch anything! NASA said the impact site would have glowed like a 4th magnitude star for about one second.

These false-color frames extracted from the original black and white video show the explosion in progress. At its peak, the flash was as bright as a 4th magnitude star. Credit: NASA

These false-color frames extracted from the original black and white video show the explosion in progress. At its peak, the flash was as bright as a 4th magnitude star. Credit: NASA

During the past 8 years, Cooke and a team of NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface.

Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the March 17th impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program’s 14-inch telescopes. “It jumped right out at me, it was so bright,” he said.

During the 8 years of observations, the team has found that the flashes on the Moon are more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year.

Since the monitoring program began in 2005, NASA’s lunar impact team has detected more than 300 strikes, most orders of magnitude fainter than the March 17th event. Statistically speaking, more than half of all lunar meteors come from known meteoroid streams such as the Perseids and Leonids. The rest are sporadic meteors–random bits of comet and asteroid debris of unknown parentage.
Cooke believes the lunar impact might have been part of a much larger event.

NASA's lunar monitoring program has detected hundreds of meteoroid impacts. The brightest, detected on March 17, 2013, in Mare Imbrium, is marked by the red square. Credit: NASA

NASA’s lunar monitoring program has detected hundreds of meteoroid impacts. The brightest, detected on March 17, 2013, in Mare Imbrium, is marked by the red square. Credit: NASA

“On the night of March 17, NASA and University of Western Ontario all-sky cameras picked up an unusual number of deep-penetrating meteors right here on Earth,” he said. “These fireballs were traveling along nearly identical orbits between Earth and the asteroid belt.”

This means Earth and the Moon were pelted by meteoroids at about the same time.

“My working hypothesis is that the two events are related, and that this constitutes a short duration cluster of material encountered by the Earth-Moon system,” said Cooke.

One of the goals of the lunar monitoring program is to identify new streams of space debris that pose a potential threat to the Earth-Moon system. The March 17th event seems to be a good candidate.

Source: Science@NASA

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Philip Havice May 17, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Amazing

Planemo May 17, 2013 at 4:24 PM

March 17th? must of been St. Patrick ;-)

Mean_deviatioN May 18, 2013 at 12:09 AM

‘must have’?

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 12:12 AM

I stand corrected.

gsinlv May 18, 2013 at 1:51 AM

‘As’ long as the meaning(s) are….. ;)

Mitesh Khatri May 18, 2013 at 7:36 AM

“AS long.” The evolution of language is one thing. Mistakes which display one’s inattention and lack of effort towards correct grammar (e.g. must of) are another. Uverwyse wots, Da point ov eni kyNDa: spelin or / lurneen owto rite!!!???!!?!???!??!!!????!!!

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 8:20 AM

I say poe-tay-toe. You say pa-ta-toe. What does that have to do with effort? Clue? The mistake here is YOU. Final clue Mr. Know-it-all. NOT YOU.

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 9:29 AM

However. I do understand your point. But not your extremism. Now lets talk science. TYVM

jim adams May 18, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Textbook correct English when appropriate.

On the other hand — i growed up speaking English as my native language, and i got my first book larning in a Southern Illinois (pronounce that final “s” on Illinois) one room country school house before they was electricity, tv or phones, cuz that’s what we who was fetched up there spoke it.

Both me an Planemo are using colloquial English, and your final sentence is using a version of George Bernard Shaw’s complaint about the terrible spelling of the English language. In reference to your last sentence, here’s something to play with: “Ghoti”, a common piscean, and this word is formed from parts of other words, as is “Ghoughpteighbteau tchoghs!” which is a common crunchy. (google it and then choose wikipedia) .. enjoy.

This is just a fun aside, Mitesh Khatri, and thanks for your thoughts. The purpose of what we are writing is to communicate with others .. or so i think. My own standards are a mild use of colloquial English is fully acceptable. I join you in complaining when it is obvious a) the writer has something to say, and b) they didn’t read their post before posting, and didn’t spell check it. Planemo’s speech is just down home speech for me.

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 7:19 PM

The point went so fast right over and by your head and mind. VAROOOM-ZOOOOM!

Is your cursing really needed? This is like a blog. It is NOT a english or poetry contest.

On the real subject matter. What did you think about asteroids hitting the moon and earth lately? Can you handle that?

Laurel Lee Mayo May 18, 2013 at 4:32 PM

@Planemo I found it amusing . Commenting on grammer or spelling is a troll since it is unrelated to the content of what you are saying. Its a fallacious argument that people use for amusement.

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Agreed. It gets old fast.

Mean_deviatioN May 18, 2013 at 11:30 PM

Also agreed, Planemo.
May your self-gravity continue to not achieve core fusion during your lifetime.
As per Laurel Lee Mayo, a related comment on your initial content = hagiography=science?
A lil’fun…and that is what I’ve had..;~)
I’m sure Kelsey G would agree.

“On the real subject matter. What did you think about asteroids hitting the moon and earth lately? Can you handle that?”

Answer: yes, I think so. Not sure what you mean by lately as it’s been happening for a few billion years, more or less. As natural as rain. Not much we can do about it anyway.

Perhaps the relevant sciences are getting better at detecting these events?

“Today it is taking centre stage”…as the media find something new to inform us about, ’twill drift off into the background.

I wonder if it’s more likely we’ll screw up before the next
extinction event..and will we know it’s coming before it hits?

Planemo May 19, 2013 at 12:03 AM

Glad you agree. I already said million of years with asteroids hitting earth and moon. And yes, it is actually billions of years. I thought I said that to you in a reply. Guess it was someone else. Looks like ‘thought’ screwed up again.
Yes, science is doing better finding asteroids. But it must get much better. Money is needed. NASA , ESA , along with other private companies will see to new technologies for hunting asteroids down. Especially the one’s that come from the back door of the sun.
As far as we’ll screw up those huge asteroids. If they do. “DUCK”? ;~)

Aqua4U May 17, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Got my hard hat and gold undies… let er rip! Can’t wait to see that crater!

Brandon White May 18, 2013 at 3:30 AM

the meteoroid was travelling at 30% the speed of light! :O

Don’t you mean 90,000 m/s?

Michael Gibson May 18, 2013 at 6:03 AM

How is it his “working hypothesis”? How does he plan to test it? What are the testable predictions of his hypothesis?

Simon May 18, 2013 at 2:36 AM

I think they just nuked the moon

phatuesday May 18, 2013 at 4:08 AM

Don’t really care if the i’s dotted and t’s are crossed in most discussions. More interested in content of a conversation rather than visualizing their grammatical prowess.

Lord Haw-Haw. May 18, 2013 at 1:08 PM

The Canterbury monks recorded such a lunar impact event as far back as 1178, thank’s to Ron Sugg of the Marshall Space Flight Center this event was captured utilizing one of their 14-inch telescopes. It is surprising no other astronomical buff Globally appears to have witnessed it, why has it taken so long to report, March 17th is just over two months ago?

Planemo May 19, 2013 at 8:06 PM

Good point.

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 7:43 PM

Must of been North Korea partnering with Iran? … ;-).

It is amazing how asteroids have been in the news. For millions of years it has been happening. Today it is taking center stage, especially in Russia and the minds of the space scientists. Last week a 10-lb rock containing about 10% iron, went through a roof and one floor in south western New England. Someday it will be a big one. God forbid.

Mean_deviatioN May 19, 2013 at 2:19 AM

Interesting and terrifying at the same time. Good job ferreting out this story as it certainly shows how at risk we are. Didn’t receive any media coverage in my neck of the woods. Where exactly did it fall? I suspect south western New England covers quite some area. Were there any injuries? How much property damage? Where is the rock now? It would be a precious item worthy of intense investigation and experimentation. Thanks in advance. :-)

Planemo May 19, 2013 at 4:01 AM

That would be in Connecticut. I forgot the town’s name off hand. It hit and went straight through the roof, then straight through the whole house onto the living room floor hitting a few furniture items on the way down making a deep indentation on the living room floor.
They didn’t say where the 90%-rock and 10%-iron content was taken. I don’t know if they got it back or not. It was said it was taken to be analyzed. I know they can bring a large sum of money. Hope their insurance Co. pays for damages. I’d sell the damn thing! The damage cost I am not aware of. I guess you could Google Connecticut space rock? Happened a week or two ago. ;~)

Charles James Grout May 18, 2013 at 10:58 PM

I find it funny how loads of comments are based on spelling & grammar.

Thank you for this article; I’ve recently decided to dedicate my efforts to an Extended Project next academic year on impact craters and this report will be very beneficial to my research. Rest assured a full bibliography and referencing will be used :) Thanks Nancy

Planemo May 19, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Charlie…I don not get it myself. It is not collage, or a grant. It is a blog of sorts. I felt I was back in school being told how to spell. lighten up! Some meanings I expressed went straight over their heads. — I find it fascinating with all the rocks out there zipping around. We do not get hit more often by the bigger asteroids with biblical proportions. .

Mean_deviatioN May 19, 2013 at 11:19 PM

Planemo,

English is not my first language, and it is a tough one to learn. Colloquialisms make it so much more difficult.

jim adams elsewhere on this page writes: “The purpose of what we are writing is to communicate with others .. or so i think. My own standards are a mild use of colloquial English is fully acceptable. I join you in complaining when it is obvious a) the writer has something to say, and b) they didn’t read their post before posting, and didn’t spell check it. Planemo’s speech is just down home speech for me.” A sentiment with which you, quite rightly, agreed.

However, jim adams’ standards are as subjective as yours and mine, and are, by their very nature, different. Communication with others works best when the communicator makes their point/s with accuracy, especially, perhaps, on a science site.

You wrote that “Some meanings I expressed went straight over their heads” which surely demonstrates a problem inherent with such communication.

Humour, as I suspect much of “what went straight over their heads” was from your perspective, while a vital part of what makes humans human, is, like colloquialisms, also quite a local phenomenon. As the internet is a global mechanism, some colloquialisms and some humour will inevitably cause confusion.

I also suspect that I should apologize for my part in the “loads of comments are based on spelling & grammar” and perhaps shouldn’t expect a blog-like science site to be overly clear and accurate for a worldwide audience.

With regards to your pondering the implications of the Bible’s fire and brimstone and all the rocks zipping around out there, what implications have you arrived at? A ‘greater intelligence’? Dumb luck? Someone/thing has it in for us…or not?

Incidentally, thank you for filling out the Connecticut space rock story. A Google search did reveal much quite fascinating information.

Planemo May 20, 2013 at 1:19 AM

You are correct. My comments were from my own perspective. Everyone has his and her own way of communicating. Humor can cause confusion. Trying to read between the lines, can be misunderstood. Today’s internet lingo can be this: “I went 2 the store 2day”. Instead of typing it correctly. “I went to the store today”. A few people get so irritated by that. I do not. “Both have the exact same meaning”. So what is the big deal? To some, they get so irritated and angry.

As for the “fire and brimstone”? Some archaeologists say Sodom and Gomorrah, very near the Dead Sea. Burnt down because of a possible asteroid impact. There is evidence from the rocks and especially the surrounding sand was so hot, it turned to glass. A very hot fire indeed. To me the Bible is very interesting and makes me ponder on what is written with in its pages. It is not a science book.. I am a Creationist. In order for life to evolve. It had to be created. It is just my own personal belief. You’ll have to do the Google thing to get all the correct answers about Sodom and Gomorrah and the possible facts.

And, your welcome for the Connecticut small space rock. It sure is fascinating. Asteroids can end life as we know it. God forbid. Good night.

danangel May 20, 2013 at 2:42 AM

There are also some who say Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by nuclear weapons. LOL. Check ‘Ancient Aliens’ on the History Channel.

Mean_deviatioN May 21, 2013 at 3:09 AM

You write, “To me the Bible is very interesting and makes me ponder on what is written with in its pages. It is not a science book.. I am a Creationist.”

Interesting; as a non-believer and non-Creationist, I find the Bible to be a fascinating series of documents, and to be, in part, a book of science, in that, as it is a collection, a library, of 66 books written over 2000 years give or take, and includes prophecy, narrative, poetry, songs, history (and more), and intersects the wider world in many of its books, then there must indeed be facts embedded in it. Historical facts, certainly, but also scientific facts, necessarily in the language of the day and culture. No mention of dinosaurs or asteroids, of course, as they are quite modern terms.

I find it illuminating that Genesis 1, for example, can be read as an objective observer’s account of a series of events, which, by and large, concur with the findings of the relevant modern sciences, given the filter of 3500 years, language and culture.

What other ancient documents, I wonder, contain information and knowledge written in ways and images and metaphors of which we moderns cannot (willfully or not) understand?

Planemo May 20, 2013 at 5:51 PM

-Do not forget- Type has no emotions nor tone of voice. It is even more confusing when humor is applied. Words in type can be distorted in many ways. Also, you spell humo’u'r with a second ‘u’. Many of us do not but some do like you.

Mean_deviatioN May 20, 2013 at 10:58 PM

English: a truly frustrating language, rife with regional spelling differences and even, seemingly, acceptable grammatical rules. Also flavour, colour, harbour, honour, labour, neighbour, rumour; ise or ize, ction or xtion, ce or se, re or er…

The use of ‘old’ as in no longer relevant/interesting/fun, as in ‘It is not getting old. “It is OLD”!’, I find interesting, as many people have a great respect for age and find this a curious put down. There seems to be an emphasis on youth at the expense of age in many cultures.

Fascinating idea that God may have used asteroids to destroy ancient cities. Would not an asteroid strike large enough to have destroyed 2 cities had a detectable effect, such as the so-called ‘nuclear winter’, even if only locally? If this occurred, say, 4000 years ago (hard to get an agreed on time for this event), surely there would be geological indications (again, even locally) as there are for the 65 million year old Chicxulub event? I imagine the neighbouring people/cities/countries might also have noticed such a momentous event and made (copious?) records…but these may have been ‘lost’, of course, given the turbulent locale.

Lazlo Long May 18, 2013 at 11:31 PM

That certainly complicates building anything up there..

Judging by the strike markers the southern end of the moon would be the best candidate as a possible installation site.

Adam Singer May 21, 2013 at 5:21 PM

As they say in finance, “Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results”
Not sure if that holds true with meteor impacts, though, as there origin isn’t completely random like the markets sometimes seem to be :-)

Adam Singer May 20, 2013 at 11:04 AM

Without the protection of air
A meteor set off a flare
A base on the moon
Would have to attune
And that’s why the scientists care

Planemo May 21, 2013 at 12:34 AM

Excellent point.

Mean_deviatioN May 18, 2013 at 10:12 AM

lets=let’s?

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 10:44 AM

I played along for a bit. It is not getting old. “It is OLD”! This is a science site and not a spelling B or a contest. If the meaning(s) are understood. It is all good. So please, let us all talk science. Nothing personal….but….. . :).

Mean_deviatioN May 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Okey dokey.
Let us talk science: with reference to the first post, how is St Patrick related to a Super-Bright Explosion Seen on the Moon, from a science angle?

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Mean Devotion. Aahhhh its all in the name. Now I get it. Took me long enough.
Now for science. Asteroids are hitting everywhere from the moon to our globe.

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 6:41 PM

A lil’fun is good once and a while. You over do it harping on the same troll thing!

Planemo May 18, 2013 at 4:37 PM

Thank you! I could not say it better Jim? ;~).

Planemo May 20, 2013 at 2:54 AM

lol….you should hear what other archaeologists say what happened. It is not even worth typing. The asteroid theory has some possibilities. We were not there.

Planemo May 21, 2013 at 12:26 AM

Most of my older Canadian French relatives spelled the word humor, – humour- like you did or still do. I laugh a bit because it brings back memories of my childhood to teen years. Your correct, the language is old. Just like I am now, …old-er….lol.

About Sodom and Gomorrah. It was suggested as a possibility, and not a fact. It was posed as a question. A hypothesis. I have seen many documents and read many books suggesting many outcomes of what really happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. Some sound so laughable and some sound so plausible. “I personally just do not know”. I was not there. It is extremely interesting though. The Chicx’lb asteroid was said to be 6 miles X 5 miles. The top of that rock was still where jets fly while the very bottom of it was smashing into earth at between 35,000 to 45,000-MPH. Simply put, “INCREDIBLE”!

Planemo May 21, 2013 at 3:27 AM

Where and how do I start with you?..lol. First of all, here is NOT the place. Second, politics and religion are no no’s. Third, at least you believe in something. You believe in nothing. That is something…lol.
Some mind made thsi universe. Science can factually reverse the present time to the big bang and claim it had a beginning. Dispute that. So far I I am winning and get 1 point. Score is Planemo “1″ and Mean_deviatioN “0″. Your up!

Mean_deviatioN May 21, 2013 at 4:33 AM

Interesting that you assume that I believe in nothing (creation ex nihilo anyone?). Non-believer in this instance does not equate to no belief. I had assumed that referencing the Bible would have indicated that my non-belief is, explicitly, a non-belief in the deity that is (solely) revealed in the Bible. Sorry for any confusion there…a clear demonstration of the inadequacy of words and thoughts.

I fully accept without reservation that the reversal of time from the present indicates a definite beginning, perhaps even in the interestingly named Big Bang, as per Genesis 1:3, as, surely, light was its most obvious product for 300,000 or so years.

However, I do find it difficult to be definitive as to the cause, and am somewhat in awe of your surety that a mind made this universe. I find this surety fascinating as, elsewhere on this page, you write, ‘”I personally just do not know”. I was not there.’ with regards to Sodom and Gomorrah. I wonder, therefore, were you there at the beginning?;-)

True, this being a science site, it is not the perfect site for such a discussion.

If I was to say that I accept a being (mind?) that is capable of both transcendence and immanence, that exists outside of time as we understand it, would that be helpful?

Planemo May 21, 2013 at 6:21 AM

Well.., .here we go again with words being misunderstood. This misunderstanding is understandable. We both assumed one another’s meanings of words. We are both at fault. In some ways that word ‘assume’ can make an -’ass’ – out of -’u'- and out of -’me’-. ass-u-me.

When I said a “mind” created the universe. I should of said “consciousness”. Can consciousness be dimensional transferring its ways physically in our material universe/world? Can consciousness survive physical death and transfer consciousness to another dimension? Are there other dimensions? Those concepts I have read in books and seen in documentary’s. I have had my own thoughts come up with some freaky thoughts also. So I respectfully throw this out there and let it land where it will. #1 – I cannot prove there is a Creator who created all this we see and experience. And #2 – You cannot disprove there is ‘no’ Creator who did not create what we see and experience. Confusing, isn’t it?…lol. I will call this a “stale mate” for now, agreed? “we were not there”

Also, the same applies with Sodom and Gomorrah. Some how both small cities were burnt out. The evidence is over powering. The suggestions and possibilities of a very large meteor impact, or a volcanic explosion, or even the ignition of sulfur may have caused the fire. -Where was ‘Smokey the Bear when you need him!-…lol. In both instances of the Big Bang(expansion) or the ‘any’ ignition of Sodom and Gomorrah. We were not there. Good night…

Mean_deviatioN May 21, 2013 at 6:41 AM

Stale mate agreed.

While “we were not there”, however, inductive and deductive reasoning have allowed us, with the tools of theoretical (and practical) physics to get back within 10-43 seconds of the creation (!) event…that also is quite incredible…alas, it only indicates the what and some of the how, but not the why or the before.

Thank you for taking the time to converse with me. I have enjoyed it immensely. May your God smile upon you.

Good afternoon…

Planemo May 21, 2013 at 8:22 AM

Good afternoon?..ok. Good night here. Well, now its early good morning. I woke up a bit too early. Aahh, your some wheres in a earlier time zone or a later one. Ain’t I brilliant!? …lol.
I was waiting for you to say it! I practically left opened the door. Well, actually I left it ‘ajar’. I’m guilty. But, I “KNEW” you were going to say those 2 things! #1===>”it only indicates the what and some of the how, but not the why and the before. #2 “May your(my) God ….etc”. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!!! You just “HAD” to say them didn’t you!

To be continued….

Mean_deviatioN May 21, 2013 at 8:38 AM

Aye, ’tis so. Science’s function is to inform us of the mechanics but not the reasons, if any.

Be aware that the door swings both ways, as, funnily enough, I suspected that you would gloat (hope that’s not too strong a word!) in response to what I wrote, especially with the benediction.

TBC

Planemo May 21, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Your fun, interesting, intelligent, and kool. Your age is probobly in the lower middle age area. I could be wrong. I am in the older middle age group. AARP came calling. They start so young. I know the main reason==>”$” and polotics. They go hand in hand.

The swinging door I saw. We both knew that. The stale mate for the most part will always be there for most people until death do us all part. There are a blessed chosen few whom know the exact truth.

As you have stated. It has been fun. I also thanks you for the fun enlighten communication between us. This is not the place, but again, ..to be continued…soon. ;~)

Planemo May 22, 2013 at 2:33 AM

Hope all is well with you. I just had to send you this info. I find this so fascinating! I was told today by my (elderly) mother an old booklet from a family member from Quebec, CA she was given. It is a re-printing of the old language of Colloquialism. She said it started about 1800 to 1810. This booklet was re-printed in the early 1900′s for Ellis Island NY. for immigration purposes.
To make this story short. While visiting her in her nursing-home-room this morning. She had wrote the words, ‘light-red-colour bathrobe’. We started talking about the word ‘colour’ she wrote. She explained to me the booklet from yesteryear about my great grandmother. Funny how small the world is in substance. Good evening.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: