Jan. 26, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Millions around the world were enraptured by the incredible lunar display on Monday but only a small handful managed to catch the moment a meteor struck the “super blood wolf moon.”
Chief among them was Jose Maria Madiedo, an astronomer at the University of Huelva in Spain, who captured the exact moment a football-sized meteorite hit the top left quadrant of the copper-tinted blood moon.
La roca se desintegró durante el impacto, produciendo el destello que recogen las imágenes @AstroyFisica @PlanetarioMad @elpais_sociedad @EFEnoticias @abc_ciencia @miangulo_95 @CNNEE @elperiodico @LaVanguardia @UCC_UHU pic.twitter.com/99MSfOZIGk
— Jose Maria Madiedo (@jmmadiedo) January 22, 2019
By Madiedo’s readings, the meteorite hit at exactly 5:41am local time during the totality phase of the eclipse on January 21. Astronomers in Huelva began monitoring lunar impact flashes in 1997, but this marked the first time such an event was captured on camera during a lunar eclipse.
The Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System, or MIDAS, telescopes that Madiedo used have high-sensitivity video cameras, which are perfect at capturing these split-second events. Their software immediately logs the flashes and identifies their exact location on the lunar surface to an accuracy of about 0.001 seconds.
The flash was also spotted by eagle-eyed observers from Morocco to California and Pennsylvania.
“When the automatic detection software notified me of a bright flash, I jumped out of my chair,” Madiedo told Gizmodo.
For this particular lunar eclipse, as rare as it already was, Madiedo and his team doubled the number of telescopes observing the moon from four to eight.
“In total, I spent almost two days without sleeping, including the monitoring time during the eclipse,” Madiedo continued. “But I made the extra effort to prepare the new telescopes because I had the feeling that this time would be ‘the time,’ and I did not want to miss an impact flash.”
While he awaits a full data analysis, Madiedo estimates that the tiny asteroid had a mass of between 2kg and 10kg and was about the size of a football.
The roughly 37.9 million-square-kilometer surface of the moon is hit by an estimated 2,800kg of meteor material (rock and ice) each day. The lunar strikes often come in the form of “musket ball” sized rocks no more than a few dozen grams or so in mass, according to Robert Frost, instructor and flight controller in the Flight Operations Directorate at NASA.