Technology

Space rock that hit the moon during Super Wolf Blood eclipse made a hole as big as two double decker buses, scientists reveal

Alamy Live News. RE6RAT London, UK. 20 January 2019. A supermoon rises over the City of London. Known as a supermoon due to its increased brightness and size, the supermoon will transition to a super wolf blood moon later in the night when the earth causes a lunar eclipse and the moon turns a reddish colour. Credit: Stephen Chung / Alamy Live News This is an Alamy Live News image and may not be part of your current Alamy deal . If you are unsure, please contact our sales team to check.

The meteorite exploded with such force that a flash was visible from down on Earth (Image: Alamy)

A rare meteorite strike which took place during the Super Blood Moon Wolf eclipse left a 50 foot-wide crater on the lunar surface, scientists have calculated.

The space rock was somewhere between one and two feet across, weighed 7.1 stones with an impact energy equivalent to 1.5 tonnes of TNT.

It caused a flash on the surface as the moon that lasted just 0.28 seconds and created a crater the size of two double-decker buses sat side by side.

The meteorite impact was the first ever filmed during a lunar eclipse.

Total lunar eclipses take place when the Moon moves completely into the shadow of the Earth.

The Moon takes on a red colour – the result of scattered sunlight refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere – but is much darker than normal.

The impact created a flash which was visible from Earth, which you can see at the top left of this picture (Image: J. M. Madiedo / MIDAS)

The impact created a flash which was visible from Earth, which you can see at the top left of this picture (Image: J. M. Madiedo / MIDAS)

The event on 21 January was observed by both professional and amateur astronomers with those in North and South America and Western Europe enjoying the best view.

At 4.41am GMT, just after the total phase of the eclipse began, a flash was seen on the lunar surface close to the crater Lagrange H, near the west-south-west portion of the lunar limb.

Widespread reports from amateur astronomers indicated the flash – attributed to a meteorite impact – was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Now Spanish scientists have calculated the speed of the impact and concluded the space rock collided with the Moon at 61,000 kilometres an hour (37,903mph), excavating a crater 10 to 15 metres across.

Unlike the Earth, the Moon has no atmosphere to protect it and so even small rocks can hit its surface.

Since these impacts take place at huge speeds, the rocks are instantaneously vapourised at the impact site, producing an expanding plume of debris whose glow can be detected from our planet as short-duration flashes.

Professor Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva, and Dr Jose Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia operate the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS).

This uses eight telescopes in the south of Spain to monitor the lunar surface and video footage from MIDAS recorded the moment of impact close to the crater Lagrange H, near the west-south-west portion of the lunar limb.

A super blood wolf moon over Brighton during a lunar eclipse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday January 21, 2019. A total lunar eclipse colours the lunar surface a reddish hue at the same time it appears brighter and closer to earth than normal, seeing phenomena known as a blood moon and supermoon combine. And in January, the full moon is sometimes labelled a "wolf" moon, creating the unusual celestial label which seems to have stuck. See PA Story SCIENCE Eclipse. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

A super blood wolf moon viewed over Brighton during a lunar eclipse (Image: PA)

It was brighter than most of the events regularly detected by the survey and Prof Madiedo said: ‘Something inside of me told me that this time would be the time.’

MIDAS telescopes observed the impact flash at multiple wavelengths (different colours of light), improving the analysis of the event.

The debris ejected is estimated to have reached a peak temperature of 5,400 degrees Celsius, roughly the same as the surface of the Sun.

Prof Madiedo added: ‘It would be impossible to reproduce these high-speed collisions in a lab on Earth.

‘Observing flashes is a great way to test our ideas on exactly what happens when a meteorite collides with the Moon.’

The team plan to continue monitoring meteorite impacts on the lunar surface, not least to understand the risk they present to astronauts, set to return to the Moon in the next decade.

The study was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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