A meteorite struck the moon during Monday’s “super blood wolf moon” lunar eclipse, and a handful of amateur astronomers around the world were able to capture the exceptionally-rare celestial event, Gizmodo is reporting.
Monday’s lunar eclipse — where the moon passed through the Earth’s shadow, imbuing it with a red, coppery hue — was certainly one for the record books. For starters, it came with three adjectives: “super,” because the Moon was so close to the Earth at the time; “blood” because of the eclipse; and “wolf” because the “wolf moon” traditionally refers to the first full moon in January.
But it also brought with it something that has never happened before: a meteorite was captured crashing into the satellite’s surface.
To be fair, meteorites crash onto the surface of the moon countless times per day, every day. Most of them are far too small to be seen by the naked eye — or even by sophisticated telescopes. A few, however, do get picked up by telescopes. In even rarer instances, they can be seen by the naked eye.
But Monday’s event marks the first time that a meteorite has been seen striking the moon during a lunar eclipse. And astronomers around the world saw it with their naked eyes.
To most viewers, it was the briefest of brief flashes that, according to the New Scientist, many observers mistook as a technological artifact of the live feed they were watching.
But Spanish astronomer Jose Madiedo knew he was seeing something special.
“When the automatic detection software notified me of a bright flash, I jumped out of my chair.”
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) January 22, 2019
Normally, Madiedo’s team watches the moon with four telescopes — but for Monday’s eclipse, they used eight.
“I made the extra effort to prepare the new telescopes because I had the feeling that this time would be ‘the time,’ and I did not want to miss an impact flash. One instrument had a technical issue and failed. I was exhausted when the eclipse ended… It was a very exciting moment because I knew such a thing had never been recorded before.”
By Madiedo’s best estimates, the meteorite that struck the Moon probably weighed about 22 pounds.
Robert Massey, at the Royal Astronomical Society, says that the event is a high-water mark in amateur space exploration.
“The combination of a darkened surface and a lot of people watching made it much more likely that the flash of impact was seen – and it reminds us that the solar system is still a very dynamic place.”