What If a Large Asteroid Were to Hit the Moon?

The asteroid passing by Earth later today is going to come pretty close to Earth -- about 200,000 miles distant. But it will come even closer to the moon, missing the Earth's only natural satellite by 150,000 miles.

What would happen if a large asteroid did strike the moon? Could it knock it clear out of its orbit?

movie450.gifVarious objects hit the moon quite frequently, creating new craters on its surface. The gif image at right shows a meteoroid hitting moon on May 2, 2006, an impact which created a crater about 14 meters wide and three deep. The small white flash on the right-hand side is the impact occurring, but at a speed seven times slower than reality. At regular speed, the flash lasted four-tenths of a second. The rock that collided with the moon was only about 10 inches across. If such a rock were to head toward Earth, it would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere and never reach the ground.

It would take another nearly moon-sized object to actually move the moon, Clark Chapman, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute told Popsci. If that were to happen, the moon wouldn't survive the impact. Former Popsci writer Sandeep Ravindran likens it to "whacking an egg with a golf club," which could send chunks of the moon hurtling toward Earth, and potentially jeopardizing life on Earth as a result of disruption to the lunar cycle. Fortunately, no known nearby asteroids come anywhere close to that size.

As for little 2005 YU55: If it had run a collision course with the moon it would have caused a good-sized crater -- about four kilometers across, according to Don Yeomans, director of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program. That's not nothing, but it isn't much of anything, either.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In