Some 300 lunar impact events have been logged over the years but this latest impact, from March 17, is considered many orders of magnitude brighter than anything else observed.
“We have seen a couple of others in the ‘wow’ category but not this bright,” said Robert Suggs, manager of NASA’s Lunar Impact Monitoring Program at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The NASA monitoring program’s 14-inch telescope was the first to snag an image of the lunar explosion. Analyzing the images, researchers estimate that the object probably weighed in at 40 kg (88 pounds) and was about 0.4 meters (1.4 feet) wide. It crashed into the moon at speeds of 56,000 miles (90,000 km) per hour, releasing as much energy as five tons of TNT.
Scientists hope to corroborate the impact with close-up photography from a NASA spacecraft orbiting the moon.
“They are planning to image that location in hopes of finding the crater which would be very significant scientifically,” Suggs said.