A meteoroid struck the surface of the moon recently, causing an explosion
that was visible to the naked eye and lasted about a second, NASA reported Friday.
"It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we've ever seen before," Bill Cooke, of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office told CNN.
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For the past eight years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the moon in search of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting its surface. The purpose is to find new field of space debris that could hit the Earth.
NASA officials say they see hundreds of detectable lunar meteoroid impacts a year, but scientists were in awe of the size of the explosion they saw March 17. The meteoroid was about 40 kilograms and less than a meter wide, and it hit the moon's surface at 56,000 mph. NASA told CNN the explosion glowed like a 4th magnitude star
, thanks to an explosion equivalent to 5 tons of TNT.
"On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium," Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said in a statement. "It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we've ever seen before.
At the same time the moon was hit, the Earth was pelted by meteoroids as well, but the Earth's protective atmosphere stopped it from striking the surface.
"We'll be keeping an eye out for signs of a repeat performance next year when the Earth-moon system passes through the same region of space," Cooke said.
But asteroids don't always burn up before hitting the Earth's surface. In February, an asteroid estimated to be about 66 feet (20 meters) in diameter exploded
over Chelyabinsk, Russia, damaging buildings and shattering glass, leaving more than 1,500 injured. It was the largest object to strike Earth since 1908, according to Reuters.
"The Russian fireball was many orders of magnitude larger and possessed 100,000 times more energy," than the lunar impact, Cooke said.
But how can there be an explosion on the moon when there is no oxygen? NASA says the flash of light comes not from any type of combustion – as we typically think of explosions – but rather by the glowing molten rock at the impact site, according to CNN.
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