Brightest-Ever Lunar Explosion: Meteorite Crashes Into Moon In 'Rare And Extraordinary Event' [VIDEO]

on February 24, 2014 2:46 PM EST

Moon
A lunar explosion on September 11, 2013, was the largest and brightest meteorite impact ever observed, Spanish researchers say. (Photo: NASA)

A 900-pound meteorite hit the moon on September 11, 2013, in what scientists are now calling the brightest and largest lunar impact ever observed. Writing in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Spanish researchers say the meteorite struck the lunar surface at 38,000 MPH, creating an explosion so bright that it was visible from Earth.

"This is the largest, brightest impact we have ever observed on the Moon," said Jose Madiedo, of the University of Huelva in southwestern Spain. "Usually lunar impacts have a very short duration--just a fraction of a second. But the impact we detected lasted over eight seconds. It was almost as bright as the Pole Star, which makes it the brightest impact event that we have recorded from Earth."

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The four-foot-wide meteorite struck the moon with the power of 15 tons of TNT, carving out a 131-foot-wide crater on the lunar surface. "That's the estimation we have made according to current impact models. We expect that soon NASA could observe the crater and confirm our prediction," said Madiedo.

The lunar explosion was three times as powerful as the previous biggest lunar bang ever observed, a roughly one-foot-wide meteorite which struck the moon at about 90,000 MPH in March 2013. That meteorite packed a punch of about five tons of TNT.

Because the moon has no atmosphere, it's far more prone to meteorite assault than Earth is. The Spanish researchers believe that meteorites with diameters as small as three feet strike the lunar surface with more frequency than previously thought. Space rocks of that size would never make it through Earth's atmosphere, let alone make impact with the surface.

According to the NASA's Lunar Impact Monitoring program, observing moon impacts is a fairly easy thing to do. "Looking for impacts on the moon is as simple as pointing a telescope at its dark portion. When a meteoroid strikes the moon, a large portion of the impact energy goes into heat and producing a crater; however, a small fraction goes into generating visible light, which results in a brilliant flash at the point of impact. This can be seen from Earth if the incoming meteoroid has enough kinetic energy. Just how much is 'enough' depends on the equipment used in the observations."

Madiedo said that when he saw the lunar explosion, he realized he'd "seen a very rare and extraordinary event." You can see the explosion for yourself in the video below. It's bright!

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