An explosion caused by a meteoroid impact on the moon a couple of months ago was visible from Earth with the naked eye, according to Science@NASA. But don’t worry if you didn’t catch it -- it was only noticeable for a moment.
NASA said the meteoroid impact was among the brightest phenomena that could have been viewed without the use of a telescope. “It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we've ever seen before,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.
NASA astronomers have been monitoring the moon for the past eight years looking for such explosions to occur on the lunar surface. According to the U.S. space agency, there are hundreds of detectable meteoroids that hit the moon each year.
The brightest moon explosion in recent years occurred on March 17. The 40-kilogram (88-pound) meteoroid hit the lunar surface at 56,000 mph, causing a glow like a 4th magnitude-4 star, NASA said. “It jumped right out at me, it was so bright,” said Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
According to Cooke, Earth was showered with the meteoroids at the same time, but the moon was hit more noticeably because it didn’t have any atmosphere to protect it. “We’ll be keeping an eye out for signs of a repeat performance next year when the Earth-moon system passes through the same region of space,” he said.
So how exactly can something “explode” without any oxygen? “Lunar meteors don’t require oxygen or combustion to make themselves visible,” NASA said. “They hit the ground with so much kinetic energy that even a pebble can make a crater several feet wide. The flash of light comes not from combustion but rather from the thermal glow of molten rock and hot vapors at the impact site.”
Check out the video of the explosion, either below or at the Science@NASA channel on YouTube.