Millions around the world were enraptured by the incredible lunar display on Monday but only a small handful managed to catch the moment a meteor struck the “super blood wolf moon.”
Chief among them was Jose Maria Madiedo, an astronomer at the University of Huelva in Spain, who captured the exact moment a football-sized meteorite hit the top left quadrant of the copper-tinted blood moon.
By Madiedo’s readings, the meteorite hit at exactly 5:41am local time during the totality phase of the eclipse on January 21. Astronomers in Huelva began monitoring lunar impact flashes in 1997, but this marked the first time such an event was captured on camera during a lunar eclipse.
The Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System, or MIDAS, telescopes that Madiedo used have high-sensitivity video cameras, which are perfect at capturing these split-second events. Their software immediately logs the flashes and identifies their exact location on the lunar surface to an accuracy of about 0.001 seconds.
“When the automatic detection software notified me of a bright flash, I jumped out of my chair,”Madiedo told Gizmodo.
For this particular lunar eclipse, as rare as it already was, Madiedo and his team doubled the number of telescopes observing the moon from four to eight.
“In total, I spent almost two days without sleeping, including the monitoring time during the eclipse,” Madiedo continued. “But I made the extra effort to prepare the new telescopes because I had the feeling that this time would be ‘the time,’ and I did not want to miss an impact flash.”
While he awaits a full data analysis, Madiedo estimates that the tiny asteroid had a mass of between 2kg and 10kg and was about the size of a football.
The roughly 37.9 million-square-kilometer surface of the moon is hit by an estimated 2,800kg of meteor material (rock and ice) each day. The lunar strikes often come in the form of “musket ball” sized rocks no more than a few dozen grams or so in mass, according to Robert Frost, instructor and flight controller in the Flight Operations Directorate at NASA.
SINCE YOU’RE HERE…
… we have a small favour to ask. Hurn Publications is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to the voiceless, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.
If everyone who reads our reporting and writing, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. We ask that you follow us and subscribe to our publication.