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NASA Solves Moon Mystery (+Geology Picture of the Week, February 16-22, 2003)
February 20, 2003 | Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Posted on 02/21/2003 1:47:27 PM PST by cogitator

Clementine image of the moon showing the fresh crater believed to be the impact site for the event photographed on November 15, 1953 by amateur astronomer Dr. Leon Stuart.

Full press release:

NASA Solves Half-Century Old Moon Mystery


(click link for additional pictures, including the "Stuart Event" picture of the Moon)

In the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 1953, an amateur astronomer in Oklahoma photographed what he believed to be a massive, white-hot fireball of vaporized rock rising from the center of the Moon's face. If his theory was right, Dr. Leon Stuart would be the first and only human in history to witness and document the impact of an asteroid-sized body impacting the Moon's scarred exterior.

Almost a half-century, numerous space probes and six manned lunar landings later, what had become known in astronomy circles as "Stuart's Event" was still an unproven, controversial theory. Skeptics dismissed Stuart's data as inconclusive and claimed the flash was a result of a meteorite entering Earth's atmosphere. That is, until Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Lane Johnson of Pomona College, Claremont, Calif., took a fresh look at the 50-year-old lunar mystery.

"Stuart's remarkable photograph of the collision gave us an excellent starting point in our search," said Buratti. "We were able to estimate the energy produced by the collision. But we calculated that any crater resulting from the collision would have been too small to be seen by even the best Earth-based telescopes, so we looked elsewhere for proof."

Buratti and Johnson's reconnaissance of the 35-kilometer (21.75-mile) wide region where the impact likely occurred led them to observations made by spacecraft orbiting the Moon. First, they dusted off photographs taken from the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft back in 1967, but none of the craters appeared a likely candidate. Then they consulted the more detailed imagery taken from the Clementine spacecraft in 1994.

"Using Stuart's photograph of the lunar flash, we estimated the object that hit the Moon was approximately 20 meters (65.6 feet) across, and the resulting crater would be in the range of one to two kilometers (.62 to 1.24 miles) across. We were looking for fresh craters with a non-eroded appearance," Buratti said.

Part of what makes a Moon crater look "fresh" is the appearance of a bluish tinge to the surface. This bluish tinge indicates lunar soil that is relatively untouched by a process called "space weathering," which reddens the soil. Another indicator of a fresh crater is that it reflects distinctly more light than the surrounding area.

Buratti and Johnson's search of images from the Clementine mission revealed a 1.5-kilometer (0.93 mile) wide crater. It had a bright blue, fresh-appearing layer of material surrounding the impact site, and it was located in the middle of Stuart's photograph of the 1953 flash. The crater's size is consistent with the energy produced by the observed flash; it has the right color and reflectance, and it is the right shape.

Having the vital statistics of Stuart's crater, Buratti and Johnson calculated the energy released at impact was about .5 megatons (35 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb). They estimate such events occur on the lunar surface once every half-century.

"To me this is the celestial equivalent of observing a once-in-a-century hurricane," said Buratti. "We're taught the Moon is geologically dead, but this proves that it is not. Here we can actually see weather on the Moon," she said.

While Dr. Stuart passed on in 1969, his son Jerry Stuart offered some thoughts about Buratti and Lane's findings. "Astronomy is all about investigation and discovery. It was my father's passion, and I know he would be quite pleased," he said.

Buratti and Johnson's study appears in the latest issue of the space journal, Icarus.


TOPICS: Extended News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: asteroids; canterbury; clementine; impact; moon
Geology doesn't HAVE to be on the Earth.
1 posted on 02/21/2003 1:47:27 PM PST by cogitator
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To: cogitator
Geology doesn't HAVE to be on the Earth.

Actually, from the root of the word, Geo, it does - this is lunology :^)

2 posted on 02/21/2003 1:50:55 PM PST by dirtboy
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To: cogitator
Actually, I thought Geo means Earth, and Selene means Moon, so isn't the scientific term officially selenology? I thought I had heard this as fact somewhere...
3 posted on 02/21/2003 1:53:16 PM PST by Frank_Discussion
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To: cogitator
Great report.

BTW, anyone have Stuart's original impact picture?

4 posted on 02/21/2003 1:54:01 PM PST by My2Cents ("...The bombing begins in 5 minutes.")
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To: dirtboy
I was going to suggest "lunacy."
5 posted on 02/21/2003 1:54:34 PM PST by My2Cents ("...The bombing begins in 5 minutes.")
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To: 2Trievers; headsonpikes; Pokey78; Lil'freeper; epsjr; sauropod; kayak; Miss Marple; CPT Clay; ...
*ping*
6 posted on 02/21/2003 1:54:36 PM PST by cogitator
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To: My2Cents
BTW, anyone have Stuart's original impact picture?

Click the link (the title of the article); it's there. The impact is a white dot on the terminator. (Good word to use!)

7 posted on 02/21/2003 1:55:46 PM PST by cogitator
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To: My2Cents
I was being lazy. The picture is below.


8 posted on 02/21/2003 1:56:58 PM PST by cogitator
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To: Frank_Discussion
Actually, I thought Geo means Earth, and Selene means Moon, so isn't the scientific term officially selenology? I thought I had heard this as fact somewhere...

You're probably right, but if you look it up in Websters, the second meaning applies:

"b: a study of the solid matter of a celestial body (as the moon)"

You'll see a lot of references to "lunar geology" abounding.

9 posted on 02/21/2003 2:00:13 PM PST by cogitator
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To: cogitator
That crater at the top looks like the man-in-the-moon's anus.
10 posted on 02/21/2003 2:01:00 PM PST by eastsider
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To: cogitator
Cool. Thanks.
11 posted on 02/21/2003 2:01:21 PM PST by My2Cents ("...The bombing begins in 5 minutes.")
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To: cogitator
OK, now they can explain this:


12 posted on 02/21/2003 2:08:00 PM PST by Nick Danger (Freeps Ahoy! Caribbean cruise May 31... from $610 http://www.freeper.org)
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To: Nick Danger
OK, now they can explain this:

Trick of the eyes. It's not really there; we just think it means something.

13 posted on 02/21/2003 2:09:43 PM PST by cogitator
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To: cogitator
There's no "there" there.
14 posted on 02/21/2003 2:10:49 PM PST by Frank_Discussion
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To: cogitator
What causes the bright flash of light?

Hint: Never misunderestimate the effect of kinetic energy.

15 posted on 02/21/2003 2:12:03 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: Nick Danger
I think that that moon was taken through Monica's thong undies!
16 posted on 02/21/2003 2:14:55 PM PST by aShepard
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To: cogitator
Buratti and Johnson calculated the energy released at impact was about .5 megatons (35 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb). They estimate such events occur on the lunar surface once every half-century.

Really? That would be a quite noticeable impact. If this is thought to occur once every 50 years on the moon, how often ought it to happen on earth? Even given that most asteroids would land in the ocean, I would think we'd have more of a record of observed collisions in historical times if something of this size is coming in every 50 years or so.

17 posted on 02/21/2003 2:27:56 PM PST by sphinx
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To: sphinx
Really? That would be a quite noticeable impact.

IF it made it to the surface. I'm not completely up on the details, but according to the story...

"Using Stuart's photograph of the lunar flash, we estimated the object that hit the Moon was approximately 20 meters (65.6 feet) across, and the resulting crater would be in the range of one to two kilometers (.62 to 1.24 miles) across. We were looking for fresh craters with a non-eroded appearance," Buratti said.

I'm fairly sure a 20 m diameter object would be burned to a cinder long before it hit Earth's surface. Having an atmosphere is a nice thing.

18 posted on 02/21/2003 2:41:29 PM PST by Chemist_Geek ("Drill, R&D, and conserve" should be our watchwords! Energy independence for America!)
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To: Nick Danger
"OK, now they can explain this.

Now you've done it - you just created a weeks worth of "Coast to Coast" (formerly Art Bell) programming material!

19 posted on 02/21/2003 2:44:50 PM PST by Sunnyvale CA Eng.
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To: sphinx
> If this is thought to occur once every 50 years on
> the moon, how often ought it to happen on earth?

Five per year in the 1 KT range.
One per century in the 1 MT range.
See:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-02/danl-lar021203.php

> Even given that most asteroids would land in the ocean

Or explode in the upper atmosphere.
20 posted on 02/21/2003 2:47:31 PM PST by Boundless
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To: cogitator
Since the root "geo" is Greek for "earth, ground, or soil," geology is by definition, the study of the Earth as defined in the rocks.

The newest branch of the science of geology is known as "exogeology." Exogeology is the study of planetary bodies outside of the earth. I first heard the term several years ago from a firnd who worked at the JPL in Pasadena, CA. He was working on the exogeoglogy of the moons of Jupiter. I thought that was pretty neat.

21 posted on 02/21/2003 2:48:36 PM PST by capitan_refugio (Go XL-5!)
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To: sphinx
how often ought it to happen on earth?

About every five years. Most detonate in the atmosphere rather than reach the ground.

22 posted on 02/21/2003 2:50:07 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: sphinx
Really? That would be a quite noticeable impact. If this is thought to occur once every 50 years on the moon, how often ought it to happen on earth? Even given that most asteroids would land in the ocean, I would think we'd have more of a record of observed collisions in historical times if something of this size is coming in every 50 years or so.

They do. I wrote a FR editorial proposing that NASA should take up the SpaceGuard mission proposed by Arthur C. Clarke in Rendesvous with Rama, to become an international space organization with the capability to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts.

On June 30, 1908, the Tunguska impact caused a major event in Siberia.

The Tunguska Event (with pictures of the aftermath)

On August 10, 1972, a large asteroid or comet fragment passed over Wyoming and other western states before "skipping" back out of the Earth's atmosphere. Below is a picture of the fireball over the Tetons.

There was also a large fireball and possible impact on the Greenland ice sheet in the 1990s.

I should be able to find my editorial with a FR search; I'll post the link in a subsequent reply if I do.

23 posted on 02/21/2003 2:51:25 PM PST by cogitator
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To: sphinx
Now is the time for "SpaceGuard"
24 posted on 02/21/2003 2:54:07 PM PST by cogitator
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To: cogitator
bttt...
25 posted on 02/21/2003 2:57:58 PM PST by sit-rep
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To: Frank_Discussion
...so isn't the scientific term officially selenology....

Yes, sort of.
 

Main Entry: sel·e·nol·o·gy
Pronunciation: "se-l&-'nä-l&-jE
Function: noun
Date: 1821
: a branch of astronomy that deals with the moon
- se·le·no·log·i·cal /"se-l&-nO-'lä-ji-k&l, s&-"lE-n&l-'ä-/ adjective
- sel·e·nol·o·gist /"se-l&-'nä-l&-jist/ noun

26 posted on 02/21/2003 3:03:14 PM PST by aruanan
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To: cogitator
If his theory was right, Dr. Leon Stuart would be the first and only human in history to witness and document the impact of an asteroid-sized body impacting the Moon's scarred exterior.

Ummmm, didn't a few monks in England report an impact on the moon's top "horn", the resulting shower of sparks, and the appearance (illusion) of the moon shuddering in the 1200's? IIRC this tracks with the location and estimated age/youth of the Tico crater...

27 posted on 02/21/2003 3:05:47 PM PST by null and void
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To: RightWhale
The bright flash would simply be the reflected light of the sun off the clould of particles. Kind of like how a cloud is bright white when sunlit. This is especially true for an event at or near the terminator, as above.
28 posted on 02/21/2003 3:07:37 PM PST by Atlas Sneezed
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To: Beelzebubba
The kinetic energy of an asteroid stopping suddenly would be enough energy to ionize the body of the asteroid, which would be accompanied by a release of photons, AKA a bright flash. While not in the nuclear range, it would be easily match TNT pound for pound.
29 posted on 02/21/2003 3:13:50 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: Nick Danger
OK, now they can explain this:

The Moon is plaid??

30 posted on 02/21/2003 3:51:39 PM PST by Ichneumon
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To: eastsider
Just where do you think the expression to "moon" someone came from?
31 posted on 02/21/2003 4:29:09 PM PST by coloradan
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To: JOE6PAK

32 posted on 02/21/2003 4:50:09 PM PST by Nick Danger (Freeps Ahoy! Caribbean cruise May 31... from $610 http://www.freeper.org)
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To: cogitator

33 posted on 02/21/2003 4:50:48 PM PST by Godebert
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To: Nick Danger
Ancient alien lunoglyph representing the general frustrations of the leaders of that race of beings to successfully recruit polesmoking underlings...
34 posted on 02/21/2003 6:26:12 PM PST by Axenolith (<Do not adjust your monitor, Freerepublic is in control...>)
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To: dirtboy
Geology doesn't HAVE to be on the Earth.

Actually, from the root of the word, Geo, it does - this is lunology :^

I think the actual term is "Selenology"...

35 posted on 02/21/2003 9:36:23 PM PST by Swordmaker (Tagline Extermination Services, franchises available, small investment, big profit)
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To: null and void
Ummmm, didn't a few monks in England report an impact on the moon's top "horn", the resulting shower of sparks, and the appearance (illusion) of the moon shuddering in the 1200's? IIRC this tracks with the location and estimated age/youth of the Tico crater...

Yes on the monk's observations (1178), but I don't think it was Tycho. One Web article says this might be the crater "Bruno".

36 posted on 02/24/2003 7:27:42 AM PST by cogitator
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To: cogitator
One Web article says this might be the crater "Bruno".

What in the Dickens do you use a a key word for the search?

37 posted on 02/24/2003 10:13:18 AM PST by null and void (Reaaaallllyyyy Sssssllllooowww ppppeeeopplllle wwwannttt to knnnoooow...)
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To: null and void
What in the Dickens do you use a a key word for the search?

I used Google with "monks moon impact observation".

Here's the article with the reference I mentioned:

Leonid strikes the Moon

Here's another article about it, that throws doubt on the impact theory for the 1178 event and Bruno crater:

The Mysterious Case of Crater Giordano Bruno

Same article topic, better picture:

Lunar Impact or Heavenly Coincedence

This article also refers to the Stuart impact photograph.

38 posted on 02/24/2003 10:46:18 AM PST by cogitator
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To: cogitator
Thanks! After caffination, I figured it out. I got a few different hits, and yours were interesting.

39 posted on 02/24/2003 12:33:26 PM PST by null and void
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