We all know the Moon is peppered with craters. But at the end of last month an astronomer in Japan witnessed the creation of a brand new one.
Daichi Fujii, curator of the Hiratsuka City Museum, happened to be studying the lunar surface at the exact moment that a small asteroid slammed into it at around 30,000mph.
He says the meteorite appears to have struck near Ideler L crater, slightly northwest of Pitiscus crater, forming a new crater some 40 feet across.
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While most objects that collide with the Earth will be burned up by the friction with our atmosphere, the Moon has no atmosphere to speak of and there would have been little to slow the meteor as it plummeted towards the lunar surface.
It’s the lack of protective atmosphere that is one of the reasons for the Moon’s surface being so cratered – and of course with no atmosphere there’s no weather to wear away the craters once they’re formed.
The object that Fuji saw, at about 8.15 local time (11.15 GMT) on February 23, created a bright flash as it smashed into the Moon.
The crater it created will sooner or later be imaged by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or India's Chandrayaan 2 lunar probe, Fujii said.
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Witnessing the impact is more than just a cool story to tell another astronomers.
Developing a filler understanding of how frequently these incidents happen will help scientists learn what kind of protection will be needed for future Moon missions and – in the longer term – Moon bases.
The largest known impact on the Moon is believed to have occurred around 4.3 billion years ago.
A massive object struck near the lunar South Pole, leaving a huge crater some 1,600 miles wide and five miles deep.
It’s the second largest known impact crater in the entire solar system, and it’s shaped the Moon’s unique “seas” that are still visible from the Earth today.
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