Captured on Video: Flash from Meteor Crash on the Moon

By Tom Yulsman | February 24, 2014 11:50 am
Meteor crash moon

The moon’s Hayn Crater, as photographed by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite. The relatively young crater is 54 miles (87 km) in diameter. (Source: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

I guess I’m on a bit of a lunar kick. Earlier today I posted a beautiful photo of the Moon floating above Earth’s glowing limb. And then I ran across an intriguing news item about scientists capturing video of a bright flash on the Moon caused by a meteor crash.

I’ve included the video below, but I thought I would lead off with the spectacular image above of the Hayn Crater on the moon, captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. As described by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in its Flickr stream:

The central peak complex in the image above is dramatically illuminated by the low Sun casting long shadows across the crater floor. The floor of Hayn crater contains spectacular remnants of the impact event: impact melt, slump blocks, and complex debris. In some areas, rocks on the floor have cracked and eroded into fields of boulders.

Now there’s a new lunar crater, thanks to the meteorite impact on Sept. 11, 2013 and just described in a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Here’s the video showing the impact flash, as seen by two telescopes in the south of Spain that were searching for lunar impact events:

For a longer video including animations and explanation, go here.

The flash lasted for eight seconds, and would have been visible to the naked eye on Earth, had anyone happened to be watching. It was the longest and brightest confirmed impact flash ever observed on the Moon.

Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva and his colleagues estimate the meteoroid was about the mass of a small car and was traveling at  38,000 miles per hour (61,000 km/hour). When the rock hit the moon, the energy released equalled that from 15.6 tons of TNT (plus or minus 2.5 tons). This giant explosion created a new crater with a diameter of around 40 meters, or about half a football field.

That’s obviously much smaller than Hayn Crater. So imagine the gargantuan explosion that gouged that one out!

Countless craters, both large and small, pockmark the face of the moon, thanks to 4.5 billion years of bombardment from rocks of all sizes. Unlike Earth, the moon has no protection against this pummeling — because it lacks an atmosphere.

So when you get a chance, have a look at my earlier post (here’s the link again) showing the moon, and look closely at the blue glow. That’s our atmosphere. We should give thanks for it.

  • Glenn Strycker

    Check out a research project calculating impact stats with a known mass and trajectory:

    • Tom Yulsman

      Thank you Glenn! Very interesting.

  • JB

    The blue glow is also useful for breathing :)

  • Spicy_McHaggis

    What causes the flash if there is no oxygen to burn?

    • M Phillips

      With every action… there is an equal and opposite reaction. Dust and fine particulate material would be cast upward, causing a flash like effect.

      • Rich

        Instead of a bright dust this was an actual explosion. If you were within a one kilometer radius of this impact, you would not only see the flash but you would feel the intense heat of it. You would also feel the ground heave with impact shock (you wouldn’t hear a boom since there’s no air on the moon to conduct the sound) but before the ground shock arrived, you would be shredded by countless bits of hypersonic impact ejecta. The fireball from such a lunar impact is real. Its just not caused by combustion with oxygen (again, since there’s no atmosphere) but from the violent conversion of the asteroids energy of motion to heat energy. Enough heat to make a true fireball.

    • Glaisne

      There is no burning happening. The kinetic energy of the meteoroid is instantly turned to heat. Causing the impact area to glow.

    • Rich

      An incandescent light bulb does not glow because of combustion in the presence of oxygen. It glows because it has been made very hot by the addition of electrical energy. The meteor which struck the moon had its own energy of motion converted to heat energy when it was suddenly stopped by the moons surface, causing the flash-heating of material in the impact region to the point of glowing visibly. As the material radiated off its heat and dispersed, the glow faded.

    • John Lavallee

      the sun light reflection off the dust and the heat from the impact.

  • Dan Ronyak

    What a wallop! Would be curious if this impact is faster than nerve conduction velocity. Would you be dead before you felt it, like in Jurassic Park 2? But seriously, think about this backward through time, the moon is plowing through space to instantly regurgitate a meteorite in a brilliant flash. What would we assign the cause to? To whatever thing is missing a piece of itself; reverse entropy, everything in the universe builds itself (Backward thru time). Isn’t a Black Hole moving forward in time still “regurgitating” in this same odd scenario? Since time is quirky there. So what the heck are Black Holes assembling or reverse entropying? Queue the Borg…

  • lucyhaye

    Good Technology. Now we need to accept the New Paradigm in
    Physics-Cosmology to go ahead. See, please:

    Einstein Photo-Electric Effect and its Consequences.

    Why is Pauli Wrong? For Layman

  • Daniel Rosado Rodriguez

    Another miss! Someone is taking aim! And sooner or later it will hit Earth.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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