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Moon and Regulus

March 13, 2014

Scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are keeping a close eye on the Moon right now. They’re looking for explosions — small space rocks slamming into the lunar surface.

They’ve been watching these flashes of light for almost a decade. The brightest came a year ago today, when a hundred-pound rock created a flash that was bright enough to see with the unaided eye. There are no reports of anyone actually seeing it, but the NASA scientists caught it on video.

The Moon and Earth are constantly bombarded by space rocks. Although a few are a pretty good size, most are no bigger than pebbles. On Earth, they burn up in the atmosphere as meteors.

But the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere, so the rocks plow straight into the surface. They’re moving at tens of thousands of miles an hour, so even a fairly small rock can create a flash bright enough to see through a telescope. In fact, the NASA scientists have recorded hundreds of flashes. Some are related to meteor showers, but others happen at random times.

The strike of last March 13th may not have been quite so random, though. Several other impacts were recorded a few days later. That suggests that there’s a previously unknown stream of debris hurtling through the solar system — perhaps to hit Earth or the Moon in the future.

The Moon is in view most of the night tonight. Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, is close to its lower left as night falls, and stays close throughout the night.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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