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.

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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Firefly 10th Anniversary panel at Conic-Con.

Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, Jose Molina and Tim Minear reunite for a hilarious, heartfelt Firefly 10th anniversary panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2012.

Watch the extended, 3.5 minute preview of the new CW series, Arrow, based upon the DC Comics superhero, The Green Arrow.

Billionaire playboy Oliver Queen was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island. He has been changed by his ordeal and must hide the truth about the man he’s become while making amends for the actions he took as a boy. Arrow premieres this Fall on The CW.

From the Studio:

Coming Wednesdays this fall! Watch a preview and learn more at http://cwtv.com/shows/arrow After a violent shipwreck, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island in the Pacific. When he returns home to Starling City, his devoted mother Moira, much-beloved sister Thea, and best friend Tommy welcome him home, but they sense Oliver has been changed by his ordeal on the island. While Oliver hides the truth about the man he’s become, he desperately wants to make amends for the actions he took as the boy he was. Most particularly, he seeks reconciliation with his former girlfriend, Laurel Lance. As Oliver reconnects with those closest to him, he secretly creates the persona of Arrow – a vigilante — to right the wrongs of his family, fight the ills of society, and restore Starling City to its former glory. By day, Oliver plays the role of a wealthy, carefree and careless philanderer he used to be – flanked by his devoted chauffeur/bodyguard, John Diggle – while carefully concealing the secret identity he turns to under cover of darkness. However, Laurel’s father, Detective Quentin Lance, is determined to arrest the vigilante operating in his city. Meanwhile, Oliver’s own mother, Moira, knows much more about the deadly shipwreck than she has let on — and is more ruthless than he could ever imagine.

The third official Dark Knight Rises trailer takes on a very nihilistic tone, reflecting the wrap-up of one of the most celebrated comic-to-film franchises in Hollywood history.

From the Studio:

“The Dark Knight Rises” in theaters July 20. Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ “The Dark Knight Rises” is the epic conclusion to filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Leading an all-star international cast, Oscar(R) winner Christian Bale (“The Fighter”) again plays the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The film also stars Anne Hathaway, as Selina Kyle; Tom Hardy, as Bane; Oscar(R) winner Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”), as Miranda Tate; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as John Blake. Returning to the main cast, Oscar(R) winner Michael Caine (“The Cider House Rules”) plays Alfred; Gary Oldman is Commissioner Gordon; and Oscar(R) winner Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) reprises the role of Lucius Fox.