Occurring March 17, it was the biggest explosion in the 8-year history of NASA’s Lunar Impact Monitoring program that shoots continual video of the moon through 14-inch telescopes on Earth. NASA announced the event on May 17 after an analyst noticed the strike on a digital video. Scientists estimate the meteor weighed 88 pounds, was about 16 inches wide, and hit the moon at 56,000 miles per hour.
Steve Roy, Marshall Space Flight Center
An artist’s rendering of a small but powerful meteor strike on the moon.
In this Q&A Smithsonian Geophysicist Bruce Campbell, of the Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, answers a few questions about the explosion and the geologic processes that shape the moon’s surface. For years Campbell has been using radio telescopes to see through the moon’s thick layer of dust and debris and create a detailed radar map of the moon’s ancient bedrock topography.Q: Can the crater caused by this impact be seen from Earth?
Campbell: There is erosion on the moon which is coming from the exact process that caused this new crater. Think about it, that new 20-meter crater obliterated all the little craters that were in that spot before it. And it threw out dust that covered up and smoothed out other areas.
But even when fresh bedrock from beneath the dust is exposed by very large meteorite strikes, these new rocks are eventually broken down by the little bits of space dust zipping in and striking the moon day in and day out. In general, these tiny particles are traveling extremely fast. Most hit the ground at 2 kilometers per second or more. Even a particle of dust that’s moving at several kilometers per second will break a pretty good chunk off a rock on the ground.
Undetectable from Earth, these little particles are the dominant erosive effect on the moon…on a cosmic time scale these particles are just raining in. This crater is just part of that endless process of the soil gradually building up and rocks on the surface being broken down and craters being smoothed out. If you look at the pictures, the moon’s features are very rounded with gentle slopes; there are almost no sharp-edged hills on the moon.
Alison Mitchell | Newswise
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