Something appears to have smashed into the moon right as the world watched the lunar eclipse.
Reports from around the world show a small flash on the moon's surface. Numerous videos and photos – taken as the world watched the event referred to as the "Super Blood Wolf Moon" – appear to confirm that a rock or some other object had crashed into it.
The first person to have publicly mentioned seeing the flash was a Reddit user who said they "saw a bright flash on the moon" as they were looking up during the lunar eclipse, and had run inside and checked on a feed from Morocco that included the same flash. They had also checked and seen the light on the feed made available by the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, they said.
“Could this have been a meteor impact on the moon?” the Reddit user asked in their post. “The fact that it was visible from Morocco and California as well as my location in the Northeast United States would seem to rule out something like a straight-on meteor in the Earth's atmosphere (although I did see a shooting star right near the moon a bit before I saw the flash).”
The flash was so quick that it was hard to be sure that it showed something really hitting the moon, rather than a mistake, something more terrestrial like a plane, or a problem with the camera. So scientists got to work checking other footage from the moon – of which there was plenty, given people were taking videos of the eclipse – to check whether it could be seen on other footage.
A number of different videos showed the same flash, at the same time and in the same place on the moon's surface. It was also cross-referenced with data from the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System, or MIDAS for short, which is a scientific project that watches for the faint flashes that indicate some thing has hit the moon.
All of that allowed scientists to confirm that the moon did appear to have hit something, right in the middle of the lunar eclipse.
Full Image and Crop. This is stretched since it was rather dark but I have raw sensor data + dark frames for this however no flats. There is mag 8.5 star HIP 39869 in upper left corner as brightness reference. pic.twitter.com/kxWJvZwRzG— Christian Fröschlin (@chrfrde)January 22, 2019
It is thought to be the first time such an impact has been filmed during an eclipse, though they tend to happen fairly regularly. The darkness of the eclipse probably made it possible to actually see it: usually, when the moon is full, it is too bright to see the much fainter bursts that mark a meteor impact.
Scientists now hope to collect up the reports, images and videos of the moment of impact in the hope of studying the event in even more detail and locating more precisely where the meteor might have struck.