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X marks the spot where the meteorite hit the moon.
Photo: Aberystwyth University

First Eye Witnessed Lunar Impact Event

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X marks the spot where the meteorite hit the moon. Photo: Aberystwyth University

X marks the spot where the meteorite hit the moon.
Photo: Aberystwyth University

Space scientists at Aberystwyth University have reported what they believe to be the first confirmed sighting in the British Isles of a meteorite hitting the Moon.

A Lunar Impact Flash – a flash of light when something hits the Moon’s surface – was recorded on the southern hemisphere of the Moon and probably caused by a small meteorite the size of a golf ball.

Lasting less that one tenth of a second, the image was caught on New Year’s Day 2017 on a remotely operated telescope at Aberystwyth University.

Lunar Impact Flashes are notoriously difficult to record. The meteorite would be travelling at anywhere between 10 to 70 km per second as it hit the surface of the Moon. That is the equivalent of travelling from Aberystwyth to Cardiff in just a few seconds, and the resulting impact would be over in a fraction of a second.

A similar meteorite hitting the Earth’s atmosphere would produce a beautiful shooting star, but as the Moon has no atmosphere it slams into the surface, causing a crater the size of very large pot hole. Just under 1% of the meteorite’s energy is converted into a flash of light, which we were able to record here in Aberystwyth.

– DR TONY COOK, ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY

Scientists estimate the Moon is hit by similar sized meteorites as often as once every 10 to 20 hours.

However the impact flashes are so faint that they are only visible on the night side of the Moon using a telescope. A sighting can only be confirmed if it is seen from more than one location.

Dr Cook’s research focuses on erosion on the Moon, new craters forming and how dust moves around.

The work could prove invaluable if humans decide to colonize the Moon.
The data we collect will enable us to understand better the nature of these explosions and protect future Moon bases or space craft.

It is highly likely that anyone standing on the Moon in the vicinity of one of these explosions would be blinded by the flash of light, before being hit by shrapnel travelling at 1-2 km per second. Space suits would be peppered and punctured by it, and this would be the effect even perhaps a few hundred metres away.

– DR TONY COOK, ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY

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