Welcome to our page that focuses primarily on meteor Lunar impacts. Here you can learn everything you want to know about meteor impacts found on the surface of the Moon. From first recordings to contemporary investigations, we made sure to incorporate a myriad of details and useful links for your exploration.
What Are Lunar Impacts?
Lunar impacts are impacts of meteors that are created when a meteorite hits the surface of the Moon. In some way, it is just like a meteor hitting Earth – except that Lunar impacts happen more often. Earth’s atmosphere has several layers, so most meteoroids slam into the atmosphere and ablate (burn up) high in the sky. As a result, very few meteorites ever reach the ground. However, on the Moon, the situation is very different. The atmosphere on the Moon is almost non-existent, which means that there is nothing to protect its surface. That is why most meteorites land right to the ground there, creating an impact area along the way. The meteorites also create a flash of light, which is how we can spot them during observations.
The subject of meteor Lunar impacts has been of great interest to scientists exploring the Moon and astronomers observing meteors alike. The link between these two fields of research has been presupposed for years until one major meteor shower finally yielded results.
History of Lunar Impacts
The research of craters on the Moon began decades ago. Scientists are working hard on uncovering the story behind the craters. Through careful scientific observations, it was discovered that some of the craters are old around 650 million years. Of course, some craters are even older – it is difficult to pinpoint the exact age, but the studies are still underway. Scientists underline the importance of Lunar crater exploration as an important source of information regarding Earth’s impacts. As the Moon is very close to Earth, there is a possible correlation between Lunar impacts and Earth’s impacts, especially in the past.
The turning point in meteor Lunar impacts research that happened 20 years ago. During the major Leonid shower in 1999, massive impacts on the surface of the Earth and Moon were spotted. That was the spark that triggered the new era of Lunar meteor impacts. It showed that it was possible to monitor the Moon and observe meteor impacts. In other words, that event was what the entire astronomical community was waiting for. For years, amateurs and professionals reported sightings of meteor impacts on the Moon, but no real evidence was provided. However, after the 1999 Leonid shower, everything quickly changed.
The 1999 Leonid Shower Observation
As we mentioned, the 1999 Leonid shower was the event that sparked the Moon observations in terms of meteor impacts. Leonid showers are perhaps the biggest, most dense, meteor events that can occur. They happen each year but are notorious for prolific showers that happen every 33 years. It is interesting to mention that a Leonid shower was also responsible for the augmentation of studies and research of meteors in general. To be precise, the shower that occurred in November 1833, was the biggest meteor shower ever to be witnessed – and it remains that way even to this day.
Now back to the 1999 shower. Before that shower, it was difficult to imagine a successful observation of the Lunar impacts with real evidence. However, David Dunham, the former president of the International Occultation Timing Association, called amateurs and professionals into action. He wanted to show them that it is possible to watch and record lunar impacts using only basic equipment. After the shower, he published his results supported by photo evidence.
Modern Lunar Meteor Impacts Observations
David continued to explore lunar impacts on the Moon, as did others. In 2001, a great number of researches in diverse fields wanted to observe the Leonid shower. Peter Gural, an expert in meteoritics, published a very useful article about predictions for 2001 Leonid Meteor Lunar Impacts. He wanted to show researchers what is the best location for meteor shower observations on the Moon during that shower.
Another major contribution to discovering Lunar impacts and tracing potential showers comes from Bill Cooke from Marshall Space Flight Center. He published his predictions side by side with Asher/McNaught predictions in 2001.
“Leonids (LEO), 17 Nov 2001 11:01 UT. Moon sets 1.8 hrs after sunset. ZHR = 100, 48% impacts on unlit near side w/polar graze = 11 deg.”
According to Peter: “The + mark on the impact plots represents the position on the Moon’s surface where the radiant is at the zenith. The ‘best’ place to look is on the dark side or unilluminated portion of the Moon wherever there are dots on the plot. The probability of seeing an impact is higher in those regions with a denser set of dots (such as near the terminator in this encounter). Note that having the lit crescent in the field of view can cause glare and reduce one’s chances of seeing an impact, so lunar impact observers should aim their telescopes towards the dark face with any illuminated lunar surface just outside the field of view.”
As Peter focused on the location, others focused on the time for observations. One example is Dr. Rob McNaught. His predictions were a major contribution to the SpaceWeather website. The site, among other things, focuses on extensive research for formulating precise predictions of Lunar impacts. Dr. Robert McNaught is also famous as the other half of the famous duo Asher/McNaught. The two scientists are most famous for Leonid shower predictions, as they were the ones that were the most precise in predicting the 1999 and 2001 showers. McNaught is today described as one of the greatest discoverers in modern history, as he discovered the C/2006 P1 in 2006. The comet, named Comet McNaught, is one of the brightest non-periodic comets to be discovered in the last 50 years.
Lunar impacts are a very interesting topic for NASA as well. If you want to learn more about craters and flashes that punch the Moon’s surface regularly, you can consult the Lunar Impacts program that monitors meteors at NASA. Other useful links for your further exploration are the IOTA Lunar Meteors page, Astronomical & Atmospheric Observations by G Varros, and of course, the website of IMO (International Meteor Organization).