This past January, astronomers managed to capture the moment A rocket rock rocked the Moon during a total lunar eclipse. Now we're learning more about this unpredictable event, including the speed of the offending object and the intense effects of the impact temperature.
Our Moon gets struck by the bits of debris left over from the formation of the Solar System on a regular basis. But our natural satellite has no atmosphere to speak of, so celestial objects of various sizes are unimpeded, smashing into the lunar surface at tremendous speeds. Astronomers have managed to capture the odd lunar impact over the years, but the one captured during the total lunar eclipse of January 21, 2019 represented the first for science.
New research published this past week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, which shows that this is a unique event, including updated estimates of the speed and size of the meteoroid, the amount of energy exported during the impact, and the size of the new lunar crater.
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For the leading authors of the new study, José Madiedo of the University of Huelva and José Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, The event was a culmination of years of preparation, not to mention the years of tremendous patience. Madideo and Ortiz are involved with the Moon Impact Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS), which uses a series of telescopes and software to detect the moment a meteoroid hits darkened portions of the lunar surface. MIDAS telescopes are equipped with high-sensitivity video cameras (the system can detect flashes as brief as 0.001 seconds), along with photometric filters used to determine the effects produced by the temperature.
MIDAS has managed to capture many lunar impacts since the system went into operation in the late 1990s, but the flash captured during the total lunar eclipse this past January-those precious and fleeting moments when the Earth casts a shadow across the whole face.
"This "The first time ever, that an impact flash is unambiguously recorded during a lunar eclipse, and discussed in the scientific literature, and the first time that reports lunar impact flash observations in more than two wavelengths," the authors wrote in the new study. As noted, MIDAS telescopes captured the event at multiple wavelengths of light, or different colors of light, producing a high-fidelity view of the impact.
As an added benefit, telescopes from around the world were trained on the Moon during this particular moment, providing a series of data that were used in the new analysis.
Okay, on the good stuff-the actual findings.
The impact produced a flash that lasted for a very short 0.28 seconds, and it got as bright as a magnitude 4.2 star, which means it was visible to the naked eye. The space rock struck the Moon near the Lagrange H crater, which is near the southwestern limb, or the visible edge of the Moon.
The meteoroid weighed about 45 kilograms, which is just shy of 100 pounds, and it was measured somewhere between 30 to 60 centimeters across (11.8 to 23.6 inches). Previously, the researchers had estimated the object at around 10 kg (22 pounds), so it was heavier than initially presumed.
When the meteoroid struck the Moon, it was traveling at 61,000 km / h (37,900 mph). The energy released by the impact was equivalent to 1.5 tonnes (1.65 U.S. tons). The debris that spewed out as a result of the collision reached a temperature of 5,400 degrees Celsius (9.752 degrees Fahrenheit) -a temperature comparable to the surface of the Sun. The resulting crater now measures 15 meters (50 feet) across.
"It would be impossible to reproduce these high-speed collisions in a lab on Earth," Madiedo said in a press release. "Observing flashes is a great way to test our ideas for exactly what happens when a meteorite collides with the Moon."
Though fascinating, these findings have a practical aspect of well. In addition to learning more about the Moon-Earth environment, scientists can use this information to assess the safety of the moon surface for future explorers and habitats.