Astronomers have captured the moment a meteorite smashed into the Moon during January’s total lunar eclipse .
The meteorite struck the lunar surface at 04:41 GMT on 21 January 2019, just after the total phase of the eclipse began.
Widespread reports from amateur astronomers indicated the flash caused by the impact was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Astronomers Prof Jose Maria Madiedo and Dr Jose L. Ortiz captured the moment of impact using eight telescopes in south of Spain, known as the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS).
The impact flash lasted 0.28 seconds and is the first ever filmed during a lunar eclipse, despite a number of earlier attempts.
“Something inside of me told me that this time would be the time”, said Professor Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva.
Unlike the Earth, the Moon has no atmosphere to protect it, so even small rocks can hit its surface.
Since these impacts take place at huge speeds, the rocks are instantaneously vaporised at the impact site, producing an expanding plume of debris whose glow can be detected from our planet as flashes.
Madiedo and Ortiz conclude that the incoming rock had a mass of 45kg, and measured 30 to 60 centimetres across.
It hit close to the crater Lagrange H, near the west-south-west portion of the lunar limb, at 61,000 kilometres an hour (38,000 miles an hour).
The two scientists assess the impact energy as equivalent to 1.5 tonnes of TNT, enough to create a crater up to 15 metres (50ft) across, or about the size of two double decker buses side by side.
The debris ejected is estimated to have reached a peak temperature of 5400 degrees Celsius – roughly the same as the surface of the Sun.
“It would be impossible to reproduce these high-speed collisions in a lab on Earth,” said Madiedo.
“Observing flashes is a great way to test our ideas on exactly what happens when a meteorite collides with the Moon.”
The team plan to continue monitoring meteorite impacts on the lunar surface, to understand the risk they present to astronauts, set to return to the Moon in the next decade.