Some of those who rose early to see Monday’s super blood wolf moon were also able to catch a glimpse of a meteor striking the lunar surface.
It is believed to be the first time that such a meteor impact was ever recorded by people observing a total lunar eclipse.
Initially spotted by social media users who were unsure if they had imagined it or if it was a glitch caused by their equipment, the astronomical world quickly collected to investigate and confirm the impact.
An animated version of the event posted to Twitter by Christian Froschlin features the quick flash of the collision at the same time as a star passes behind the top left of the moon.
Animated GIF covering the start of totality for yesterday’s #LunarEclipse (about 15 minutes of real time). Includes the lunar impact event (flashing dot to the left) and occultation of the magnitude 8.5 star HIP 39869. 20 x 20 x 1 sec RGB in Celestron 8″ + 0.33x reducer. pic.twitter.com/1sGblEeLn2
— Christian Fröschlin (@chrfrde) January 22, 2019
Mr Froschlin, an amateur astronomer based in the Netherlands, captured potentially the clearest images of the impact event.
Jose Maria Madiedo, an astronomer at the University of Huelva in Spain, worked to confirm whether the impact was genuine after the flashes were spotted by a number of people watching online streams of the eclipse.
Mr Madiedo told the New Scientists magazine how he had trained eight telescopes on the lunar surface during the eclipse with the aim of recording the impact.
Although this had never been done before during a lunar eclipse, he said: “I had a feeling, this time will be the time it will happen.”
As reported by New Scientist, Mr Madiedo’s computer was running software to detect any potential flashes recorded in the pictures collected by his telescopes.
Other astronomers chipped in to estimate the size of the object which struck the moon and generally concurred that it would have had a mass of about 2kg and been about the size of a football.
Many scientists had their equipment trained towards the blood moon not simply because it is exotic and beautiful, but also because lunar eclipses often throw up interesting data for astronomers.
When the Earth passes in front of the moon, it rapidly causes its surface temperature to drop, causing lunar rocks to suddenly freeze and crack, releasing gas.
Astronomers’ telescopes aimed at a blood moon have seen this happening – but for now they may be analysing the meteor strike to see what it may reveal about our universe.