First Recording of Meteors Hitting the Moon

Published June 21st, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Astronomers say they have recorded the first pictures of meteors smashing into the Moon, a series of small, sudden impacts that occurred during the spectacular Leonid meteorite shower that illuminated skies last November. 

The images show tiny flashes lasting less than a fiftieth of a second as five Leonids slammed into the dusty lunar surface at roughly 90-minute intervals, they report in Thursday's issue of Nature, the British science weekly. 

The pictures were taken by Mexican astronomers, who collaborated with Spanish counterparts in a bid to be the first to capture images of a meteor impact. 

Three of the flashes were confirmed by other observers, they say. 

Leonids are so called because they appear in the sky in the region of the constellation of Leo. 

They are a stream of minute dust particles trailing behind the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which swings close to the Earth every 33 years. 

The particles have a diameter of between one millimeter (0.04 inch) and one centimeter (half an inch). They enter the Earth's atmosphere at speeds of between 15 and 70 kilometers (10 and 43 miles) a second, which makes them glow and burn up. 

When the comet passes close to the Sun, as it did last year, more of its ice core melts and more dust is released, thus providing a bigger show. 

The Mexican pictures were recorded on November 18 at Monterrey, using a 0.2-metre (eight-inch) telescope targeted at the "night" side of the Moon -- the part of its face that was in darkness at the time. 

The Moon presents the same face to the Earth. This is because it rotates about its own axis in about 29 days, which is virtually identical to the time it takes to complete its orbit around the Earth. 

The authors say the Leonid pictures are an encouraging start for meeting the huge technical challenge of recording high-impact collisions in space. 

Pictures and other data could reveal more about the nature of meteorites and how they impact, which could be useful for protecting communications satellites - PARIS (AFP) 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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