NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) acquired images of the lunar surface before and after the largest recorded explosion occurred on the surface.

On 17 March, 2013, an object the size of a small boulder hit the surface in Mare Imbrium and exploded in a flash of light nearly 10 times as bright as anything ever recorded before.

This bright flash was recorded by researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville with co-ordinates 20.6°N, 336.1°E. The Lunar Reconnaissance Camera (LROC) scientists were able to obtain observations before and after the impact. Comparing the actual size of the crater to the brightness of the flash helps validate impact models.

The crater itself is small, measuring 18.8 meters (61.7 feet) in diameter, but its influence large; debris excavated by the sudden release of energy flew for hundreds of meters. More than 200 related surficial changes up to 30 kilometres (19 miles) away were noted.

The results are published in the January 31 edition of the journal Icarus.

The March 17 impact crater is one of thousands of craters being mapped by the instrument. The LROC team is going back to images taken in the first year or two and comparing them to recent images. Called temporal pairs, these before/after images enable the search for a range of surface changes, including new impact craters, formed between the time the first and second image were acquired.

As of 1 January, 2015, LROC has acquired about 10,000 before and after image pairs.

Launched on 18 June, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the moon. LRO is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Pictured: This image shows a lunar impact crater created on 17 March 2013, measuring about 59 feet wide.
Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre/Arizona State University