lunar image of the month

april: a flash in the pan?

On 15th November 1953 Leon H. Stuart, an amateur astronomer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was taking photographs of the Moon when he saw in the viewfinder, and then directly, a bright flare close to the terminator. He was convinced that he had seen a meteor impact on the lunar surface - a claim that was generally dismissed by professional astronomers until 1999 (thirty years after Stuart's death) when several independent observers saw, timed and videotaped exactly that during the Leonid meteor shower.

Last December NASA researcher Bonnie Buratti and student Lane Johnson announced that they had found a fresh crater in images taken by the Clementine probe in 1994. Unfortunately, subsequent investigations have shown that the position does not quite correspond with Stuart's flash, and the crater appears in photographs taken as long ago as 1919. Also, specialists remain troubled by the duration of the flash, which Stuart reported as being at least 8 seconds. So far, nobody has come up with a convincing explanation.

Although several high-quality copies of the photograph exist, made by university researchers soon after the event, the original plate has disappeared. Unless it is found, the truth may never be known.

Image: Leon Stuart