Asteroid hit moon in '53, NASA says

Bloomberg News
Feb. 21, 2003

PASADENA, Calif. - An asteroid the size of a tractor-trailer rig smashed into the moon 50 years ago, triggering an explosion with 35 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, NASA said.

The collision produced a flash so large it was captured in a 1953 photograph by Oklahoma amateur astronomer Leon Stuart, whose assertion he witnessed a meteor collision was disputed for decades. Now, using images taken by a spacecraft in 1994, researchers said they have confirmed it was an asteroid impact.

"Stuart's remarkable photograph of the collision gave us an excellent starting point in our search," said Bonnie J. Buratti, a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Based on Stuart's photograph, Buratti and Lane Johnson of Pomona College estimated the asteroid was about 65.6 feet wide and left a crater as wide as 1.24 miles. After studying pictures taken by the Clementine spacecraft in 1994, the researchers found a 0.93 mile-wide crater in the location indicated by Stuart's photograph. Their study appears in the current issue of the journal Icarus.

"It certainly looks like Stuart's crater," Buratti said.

Stuart may be the only person ever to have documented such a lunar collision, which occurs about once a decade.

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