May 17, 2013:  For the past 8 years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface. “Lunar meteor showers” have turned out to be more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year.

They’ve just seen the biggest explosion in the history of the program.

“On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of impact could have seen the explosion–no telescope required.  For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a 4th magnitude star.

Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program’s 14-inch telescopes.  “It jumped right out at me, it was so bright,” he recalls.

The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide hit the Moon traveling 56,000 mph.  The resulting explosion1 packed as much punch as 5 tons of TNT.

Cooke believes the lunar impact might have been part of a much larger event.

“On the night of March 17, NASA and University of Western Ontario all-sky cameras picked up an unusual number of deep-penetrating meteors right here on Earth,” he says. “These fireballs were traveling along nearly identical orbits between Earth and the asteroid belt.”

This means Earth and the Moon were pelted by meteoroids at about the same time.

“My working hypothesis is that the two events are related, and that this constitutes a short duration cluster of material encountered by the Earth-Moon system,” says Cooke.

One of the goals of the lunar monitoring program is to identify new streams of space debris that pose a potential threat to the Earth-Moon system.  The March 17th event seems to be a good candidate.

Controllers of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have been notified of the strike.  The crater could be as wide as 20 meters, which would make it an easy target for LRO the next time the spacecraft passes over the impact site.  Comparing the size of the crater to the brightness of the flash would give researchers a valuable “ground truth” measurement to validate lunar impact models.

Unlike Earth, which has an atmosphere to protect it, the Moon is airless and exposed.  “Lunar meteors” crash into the ground with fair frequency. Since the monitoring program began in 2005, NASA’s lunar impact team has detected more than 300 strikes, most orders of magnitude fainter than the March 17th event.  Statistically speaking, more than half of all lunar meteors come from known meteoroid streams such as the Perseids and Leonids.  The rest are sporadic meteors–random bits of comet and asteroid debris of unknown parentage.

U.S. Space Exploration Policy eventually calls for extended astronaut stays on the lunar surface.  Identifying the sources of lunar meteors and measuring their impact rates gives future lunar explorers an idea of what to expect. Is it safe to go on a moonwalk, or not?  The middle of March might be a good time to stay inside.

“We’ll be keeping an eye out for signs of a repeat performance next year when the Earth-Moon system passes through the same region of space,” says Cooke. “Meanwhile, our analysis of the March 17th event continues.”

For updates stay tuned to science.nasa.gov.

Footnote: (1)  The Moon has no oxygen atmosphere, so how can something explode? Lunar meteors don’t require oxygen or combustion to make themselves visible.  They hit the ground with so much kinetic energy that even a pebble can make a crater several feet wide.  The flash of light comes not from combustion but rather from the thermal glow of molten rock and hot vapors at the impact site.

Credits:

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

 

The Avengers saga continues on ABC. Coming soon.
Press Release:

Joss Whedon (MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) shows us not all heroes are super with MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fresh from his role in the summer’s box office smash, MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) returns to the worldwide law enforcement organization S.H.I.E.L.D.  He puts together a small, highly trained, team of Agents to tackle the cases that haven’t been classified yet, the new, the strange and the unknown.  That team consists of straight arrow Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), an expert in combat and espionage; pilot and martial artist Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen); and brilliant if socially awkward scientists Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). They’ll be joined by civilian new recruit and computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet).

Prepare for an epic adventure that showcases the hope and wonder of the human spirit. This is a world of Super Heroes, aliens and the unusual – of action, spectacle and world spanning stories. The show will speak to the human condition through the lens of our very human, non-powered S.H.I.E.L.D agents – that together we are greater than we are apart, and that we can make a difference in the world.

Executive Produced and co-written by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen (Dollhouse, Dr.Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Jeffrey Bell (Angel, Alias) and Jeph Loeb (Smallville, Lost, Heroes) comes Marvel’s first live-action TV series, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

Press Release:

Golden Globe winner Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”) stars in this provocative new drama as one of the world’s most iconic characters.

It’s the late 19th century, and the mysterious Dracula has arrived in London, posing as an American entrepreneur who wants to bring modern science to Victorian society. He’s especially interested in the new technology of electricity, which promises to brighten the night – useful for someone who avoids the sun. But he has another reason for his travels: he hopes to take revenge on those who cursed him with immortality centuries earlier. Everything seems to be going according to plan… until he becomes infatuated with a woman who appears to be a reincarnation of his dead wife.

From the producers of the critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning hit “Downton Abbey” comes “Dracula,” a twisted, sophisticated and sexy take on Bram Stoker’s classic novel, proving that some stories never die. One-hour drama.


Press Release:
From co-creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the “Star Trek” and “Transformers” franchises, “Fringe”) comes the adventure thriller SLEEPY HOLLOW. In this modern-day retelling of Washington Irving’s classic, ICHABOD CRANE (Tom Mison, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) is resurrected and pulled two and a half centuries through time to find that the world is on the brink of destruction and that he is humanity’s last hope, forcing him to team up with a contemporary police officer (Nicole Beharie, “Shame,” “American Violet”) to unravel a mystery that dates back to the founding fathers.

The Fox network unveiled its 2013-2014 prime time lineup, keeping most of is shows, but cancelling all genre shows, replacing them with two new dramas.

New Genre Shows:

SLEEPY HOLLOW – Fall 2013 – Monday 9 p.m. (Repeats Friday 10 p.m.)

Genre: Urban Fantasy

In this modern-day retelling of Washington Irving’s classic, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) is resurrected and pulled two and a half centuries through time to find that the world is on the brink of destruction and that he is humanity’s last hope, forcing him to team up with a contemporary police officer (Nicole Beharie, “Shame,” “American Violet”) to unravel a mystery that dates back to the founding fathers. From co-creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the “Star Trek” and “Transformers” franchises, “Fringe”).

Almost Human – Spring 2014 – Monday 8 p.m.

Genre: Near Future Science Fiction

A high-tech, high-stakes action drama set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. An unlikely partnership is forged when a part-machine cop (Urban) is forced to pair with a part-human robot (Ealy) as they fight crime and investigate a deeper cover-up in a futuristic new world. Executive-produced by Emmy Award winner J.J. Abrams (“Fringe,” “Lost,” the “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises) and creator J.H. Wyman (“Fringe,” “The Mexican”) and starring Karl Urban (“Star Trek”), Michael Ealy (“Sleeper Cell,” “Common Law”) and Emmy Award nominee Lili Taylor (“Six Feet Under,”).

Genre shows listed in bold underline italics, new shows in red

Fall 2013

Day 8 (ET/PT) 9 (ET/PT)
SUN The Simpsons / Bob’s Burgers Family Guy / American Dad
MON Bones Sleepy Hollow
TUE Dads / Brooklyn Nine-Nine New Girl / The Mindy Project
WED The X Factor
THU The X Factor Glee
FRI Junior Masterchef Sleepy Hollow (Encore)
SAT Fox Sports Saturday

Midseason 2014

Day 8 (ET/PT) 9 (ET/PT)
SUN  The Simpsons / Bob’s Burgers Family Guy / American Dad
MON Almost Human The Following
TUE  Dads / Brooklyn Nine-Nine New Girl / The Mindy Project
WED American Idol
THU American Idol Rake
FRI Bones Raising Hope / Enlisted
SAT  Fox Sports Saturday

Inside:

Letters of comment: Jeffrey Redmond, Angela Myers, Jon Swartz, Jefferson Swycaffer, Wesley Kawato, Kent McDaniel and Lloyd Penney

Original Fiction:

  • The Great Escape by Kent McDaniel
  • Dead Man’s Hand by Jean Lamb (book excerpt)

Reviews:

Comics by David Heath, Jr. and Tim Allenby

and.. an essay remembering Roger Ebert by David Speakman.

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