The European Space Agency (ESA) has released images of two meteorites impacting the Moon in mid-July, captured by the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) installed on three separate telescopes in Spain.
Equipped with high-resolution CCD video cameras, the lunar observing system was built to record the brief flashes, known as “transient lunar phenomena,” produced when meteorites hit the Moon.
“For at least a thousand years, people have claimed to witness short-lived phenomena occurring on the face of the Moon. By definition, these transient flashes are hard to study, and determining their cause remains a challenge,” the ESA noted in a public statement.
“For this reason, scientists are studying these ‘transient lunar phenomena’ with great interest, not only for what they can tell us about the Moon and its history, but also about Earth and its future.”
The meteorites that hit the Moon on July 17 and 18, less than 24 hours apart, were likely pieces of the Alpha Capricornids summer meteor shower, which originates from the tail of Comet 169P/NEAT, the ESA statement reported.
Each of the parent meteoroids were no larger than an average walnut, scientists estimate.
Studying meteorite impacts on the Moon helps scientists better understand such impacts on objects throughout the solar system.
“By studying meteoroids on the Moon, we can determine how many rocks impact it and how often, and from this, we can infer the chance of impacts on Earth,” said MIDAS member and meteorite specialist Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva in Spain.
“At MIDAS, we observe impacts on the ‘dark side’ of the Moon, meaning impact flashes stand out against the dark lunar ground.”
The Moon’s “dark side” is any lunar region not lit by the Sun at a given time and should be distinguished from its “far side,” which perpetually faces away from the Earth.
Video footage of both impacts is available for viewing on the ESA website.