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Boom! NASA captures massive moon explosion on video

NASA has its eye on the moon as a boulder-size meteoroid crashes into the lunar surface with a force equal to 5 tons of TNT.

Artist concept of moon explosion
This NASA artist concept shows what the impact may have looked like.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

It's a good thing you weren't standing on the moon's Mare Imbrium crater on March 17. You might have been ground into space dust. A meteoroid "the size of a small boulder" crashed into the lunar surface and exploded with a flash so bright, it was visible to the naked eye from Earth.

NASA has been keeping an eye on the moon for eight years, looking for explosions caused by meteoroids. The space agency has seen hundreds of detectable impacts, but none quite so spectacular as this one. "For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a fourth magnitude star," NASA says.

The video was recorded by a 14-inch telescope. "It jumped right out at me. It was so bright," says Ron Suggs, analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center. It landed with an explosive force equivalent to 5 tons of TNT.

The meteoroid that caused the mayhem weighed less than 100 pounds and was less than 1.5 feet in diameter, but it was traveling at 56,000 miles per hour when it hit. It was all part of a larger meteoroid event, with NASA also detecting a spike in meteoroids entering Earth's atmosphere. Fortunately for us, our planet's atmosphere tends to burn up the space debris. The moon has no such protective layer.

Since the meteoroid likely left a pretty hefty crater, we may get a good look at the damage the next time NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter passes over the site.