Scientists Want Photos of the Meteor That Hit the Super Blood Wolf Moon
"With luck, I can have a research-quality impact site estimate by this weekend."
People from Morocco to Pennsylvania watched the Super Blood Wolf Moon fade into a deep red on Sunday night, but only a few discerning citizen scientists (and a handful of astronomers) noticed a tiny burst of light flash across it. It was so small that you wouldn’t have noticed it unless you were particularly observant, using a super high-tech telescope, or staring very closely at your live stream of the event.
Within hours of the eclipse, word had spread. Lunar scientists, like Noah Petro, Ph.D., the project scientist behind NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, put a call out on Twitter asking anyone with a high-res image of the event to come forward.
“It appears that even amateur observers who had maybe more rudimentary steps were able to see this flash, [they] just had to be looking at the right moment in time to be able to see it,” Petro tells Inverse. “But it does appear that even more robust professional setups are able to get really spectacular images of the flash.”
By some estimates, it is not particularly rare for a meteor to strike the moon, but it is pretty cool that it would happen just as moon gazers around the world peered upward for the total lunar eclipse. Those who noticed the tiny flash very quickly posted about it on Reddit and Twitter.
A quick look at the #EclipseImpact hashtag on Twitter shows that a community has slowly begun to form among the people who caught the flash. By some estimates, roughly a quarter million photos have been shared under #EclipseImpact.
Among those spectacular images are videos showing the event unfold, like in the video below, as well as high-resolution images that Petro says can help scientists determine some of the details about the crater it left behind. “High-resolution images taken from the ground by multiple cameras can help us pinpoint where we should start to expect to find an impact crater,” he says.
Already, Justin Cowart, a Ph.D. candidate at Stony Brook University and an amateur astronomer, hopes to use those images to put together a rough estimate of the location of the impact crater. He’s done some preliminary analysis based on the images submitted by astrophotographer Christian Fröschlin, who captured the image from the Netherlands.
“Right now I am making maps with the various images, trying to pin down the impact location as accurately as possible,” Cowart tells Inverse. “The impact flash was very small, and in a lot of images it’s a little smeared out by atmospheric turbulence. The more images I have, the more certain I can be that the impact site I determine wasn’t effected by this smearing.”
He’s hoping to measure the brightness captured in these photos to estimate exactly how big the crater is. We won’t know for sure how big the crater is until NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter gets a good look at it. Cowart has only gotten a handful of photos so far, but he’s still looking for more:
“I’ve gotten a pretty favorable reception so far,” says Cowart. “I’ve gotten about a dozen videos and still photos so far, so with luck I can have a research-quality impact site estimate by this weekend.”