Astronomers are saying it might be the first known event of its kind, a flash of light seen during a total lunar eclipse. The eclipse took place during the night of January 20-21, 2019, and many caught it on film (see photos). But some sharp-eyed photographers and livestream viewers also noticed a flash on one edge of the moon, as a rock from space struck the surface of Earth’s companion world, just as the total eclipse was beginning.
A viewer on Reddit was apparently the first to notice the impact during the eclipse. National Geographic reported that he:
… reached out to the r/space community to see if others could weigh in. The news spread quickly on social media, as people from across the path of totality posted their images and video of this tiny flicker of light.
Here at EarthSky, we heard the news from one of our community members, Greg Hogan in Kathleen, Georgia. He wrote:
I reviewed my images from the other night, and I am showing in the news reports that the impact happened at 11:41 eastern time … I’m pretty excited!
You can see two of Greg’s photos below, with the meteorite flash marked by an arrow.
Flashes on the moon have been reported before, but never on a moon in eclipse, to our knowledge. The flashes tend to be faint and short lived, and, when one occurs, astronomers want to check to be sure the flash isn’t from a camera, and not the moon itself. In this case, many images showed the same thing, a flash south of the crater Byrgiu – on the western part of the moon – at 4:41 UTC.
EarthSky community member Max Corneau, aka AstroDad, also caught the flash:
So did EarthSky community member Tom Wildoner:
It’s a rare alignment of infrequent events. A [meteorite] about this size hits the moon about once a week or so.
Bottom line: Photos and video of the meteorite flash on the moon, caught during the January 20-21, 2019, total lunar eclipse.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.