A pleasant surprise for fans of science and space took place in the early hours of Monday, January 21 of this year. While hundreds of people were observing the eclipse, probably very few thought that during the coincidence of the stars a stellar object would impact the Moon.
The impact, recorded exactly at 04:41:38 (GMT) occurred on the visible side of the Moon.
Discussions among the specialists were not long in coming. And soon the various observers began to talk about whether the phenomenon captured by the cameras had really been a meteorite or just an optical illusion.
José María Madiedo, professor at the University of Huelva, explained that in addition to the meteorite hypothesis, other reasons could have given rise to the images of the glow that were evident during the eclipse.
All kinds of guesswork
The high-tech cameras of the MIDAS project (the acronym of the mythological King is used here to refer to the Moon Impacts and Analysis System), run by Madiedo, were the first to take the first impressions of the light event.
Madiedo then argued that the brightness could have been caused by the cosmic ray recognition by the MIDAS camera sensor. Noises from the electronic devices that accompany the cameras. Or even by sightings of large volumes of errant space debris.
With these considerations on the table, the only way to be sure of the nature of the luminescence and to discard false positives was to take into account the images captured from several telescopes. Located in different observatories throughout Spain.
What was really the white glow that the cameras picked up during the eclipse?
The comparison made it possible to determine that the object that hit the light was actually a meteorite. Probably a part that came off a comet.
When one of these stellar objects heads towards Earth, the atmosphere functions as a natural barrier. That slowly undoes the meteors. Until there are only rocks of medium or very small size. Which are the ones that make it to our surface. Sometimes they just disappear.
However, on the Moon, the resistance force of the atmosphere is practically nil. The star does not have, as in the case of our planet, a shield to stop the rapid objects advancing towards it.
What happens when an object hits the moon’s surface?
As it crumbles on the Moon, the energy with which it travels, as it collides, creates an enormous white glow. The same glow that was captured by cameras, from Iberian observatories, and even from other parts of the world.
To better understand why such an intense glow is produced. It must be taken into account that these objects can maintain a travel speed in outer space of up to 61,000 kilometres per hour.
Clarified already the mystery, it is necessary to remember that the observation of this impact of meteor, was thanks to the particular characteristics of this eclipse. It took place during a supermoon, while the satellite planet was reddish from the reflection of the sun’s rays.
How long before we can witness this show of stellar coincidences again? We don’t know, but we can be sure that the MIDAS project will be there to record all the evidence.