Planetary Sciences News

A Meteor Struck the Moon During the Total Lunar Eclipse

Telescopes around the world detected an impact event on the lunar surface just before totality on Monday. Amateur and professional astronomers are starting to coordinate data.

By

Close-up image of impact on the lunar surface during the eclipse
A close-up of the 21 January 04:41 Coordinated Universal Time impact (white spot) on the Moon’s surface during a total lunar eclipse. Credit: Christian Fröschlin

Millions of people around the world looked up at the sky in the early hours of Monday morning to witness the last total lunar eclipse of the decade. The so-called super blood wolf moon painted the satellite in brilliant shades of orange and red for just over 5 hours. The entire eclipse was visible from the Americas and northern Eurasia and was partially visible for much of Europe, Africa, and Asia.

When professional and amateur astronomers and astrophotographers pointed their telescopes and cameras skyward to document this eclipse, some of them also caught sight of a brief flash on the Moon’s western hemisphere near the equator. After one Reddit user asked what the flash might have been, astronomers across social media began sifting through video feeds of the eclipse, suspecting a meteor impact. A rapid-fire discussion showed that cameras in Morocco, California, Pennsylvania, and the Netherlands all saw a brief bright spot at the same location at the same time, making it very unlikely to be a false detection from a camera malfunction.

The University of Huelva’s Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) confirmed the impact:

 

Close study of the available videos and high-resolution images has shown that the impact occurred at 04:41 Coordinated Universal Time just before totality began. Details about the impactor’s mass, size, origin, composition, and leftover impact crater have yet to be determined. One graduate student narrowed the impact site to a highland region west of Mare Humorum near Lagrange crater:

 

News of the impact event has continued to spread over the past 24 hours, bringing in additional confirmations and images from other locations. Noah Petro, a project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), is asking amateur astronomers around the world to send in their data of the event so that scientists can use LRO to learn more about the impact:

 

The United Kingdom’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich also detected a flash 2 minutes later that may be a second impact event:

 

Astronomers are still verifying this second event. You can follow the discussion about both impacts on social media.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

Citation: Cartier, K. M. S. (2019), A meteor struck the Moon during the total lunar eclipse, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO114349. Published on 23 January 2019.
Text © 2019. AGU. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.