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Bright Flash on the Moon Leads to a New Crater

Alex H. Kasprak
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

On March 17th, 2013, a meteor the size of a small boulder traveling over 70 times the speed of a bullet crashed into the surface of the Moon. It created an explosion so bright that it could be seen from Earth—without a telescope! Scientists think that the force of the explosion was the same as about 5 tons of dynamite going off all at once.

The whole thing was captured on video, too! NASA uses telescopes here on Earth to watch the Moon for impacts. NASA has been doing this since 2005. The March 17th impact was the largest they have ever seen.

Scientists wanted to see what kind of damage this speeding rock caused. A couple of months later, NASA was able to use a spacecraft orbiting the Moon to zoom in on the area from the flash. They found a bright, white crater. It had to be the crater caused by the meteor. A picture from 2012 of the same place had no crater there!

The Moon has a rich history of getting hit by meteors. Its surface is covered in all kinds of craters from impacts both big and small. Early on in its history, billions of years ago, the solar system was full of objects crashing into each other. Without weather or many of the geologic processes on Earth to remove them, lots of the craters on the Moon’s surface are from this ancient time.

But that doesn’t mean that the Moon’s surface stopped changing after its hectic early years. Thanks to space rocks still zipping around our solar system today, the Moon’s surface is not frozen in time. Instead, its ancient features are dotted with the scars of impacts that have occurred to this day. As you look at the Moon in the night sky, let its cratered surface be a reminder of the power and wonder of our busy stellar neighborhood.

To check out a video of the meteor hitting the moon and to learn more about this exciting event, check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYloGuUZCFM.

Want to learn more about meteors? Check out NASA’s Space Place: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/meteor-shower.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took this before (Left, February 2012) and after (Right, July 2013) picture of the new crater created by the March 17th impact. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.


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