Astronomy EssentialsSpace

A meteorite strike during the moon eclipse!

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.

Close-up of a section of the moon, with arrow pointing to meteorite flash
View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | This flash on the red, eclipsed moon came from a meteorite strike! EarthSky friend Greg Hogan in Kathleen, Georgia was one of the first to notice he’d caught the flash on film. Thanks for the heads up, Greg!
Whole disk of red, eclipsed moon with inset showing meteorite strike at about 7 o'clock.
View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | Another shot from Greg Hogan of the meteorite flash on the moon, January 20, 2019, at 11:41 eastern (January 21 at 4:41 UTC).

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:

View of the moon through a motorized telescope, with much data showing, at the time of the meteorite flash.
View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | Max Corneau in Rockwall, Texas – aka AstroDad – also caught the flash of the meteorite.

So did EarthSky community member Tom Wildoner:

How often do meteorites strike the moon? More often than you might think. Astronomer and geologist Justin Cowart (@jccwrt on Twitter) at Stony Brook University in New York told National Geographic:

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.

January 23, 2019
Astronomy Essentials

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Deborah Byrd

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