Transient Lunar Phenomenon
Stuarts Event
Bright Flare
November 15, 1953
Note the bright flare near the middle of the terminator, between Pallas and Schröter.
Image photographed: 11/15/1953 0200 U.T. by Leon H. Stuart Tulsa, OK USA
Photo courtesy the estate of Leon H. Stuart. 8" Reflector [click image for full size]
NASA Solves Half-Century Old Moon Mystery

In the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 1953, an amateur astronomer in Oklahoma photographed what he believed to be a massive, white-hot fireball of vaporized rock rising from the center of the Moon's face. If his theory was right, Dr. Leon Stuart would be the first and only human in history to witness and document the impact of an asteroid-sized body impacting the Moon's scarred exterior.

Almost a half-century, numerous space probes and six manned lunar landings later, what had become known in astronomy circles as 'Stuart's Event' was still an unproven, controversial theory. Skeptics dismissed Stuart's data as inconclusive and claimed the flash was a result of a meteorite entering Earth's atmosphere. That is, until Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Lane Johnson of Pomona College, Claremont, Calif., took a fresh look at the 50-year-old lunar mystery. 

Buratti and Lane's study appears in the latest issue of the space journal, Icarus.


Solving a 50-Year-Old Moon Mystery

All Things Considered, March 9, 2003 · Back in the 12th century, monks in England claimed they saw a spectacular eruption of fire and hot coals on the crescent moon. Others have since made similar claims about mysterious lunar flashes. Professional space scientists have dismissed such amateur reports, saying there's no evidence the flashes related to anything happening to the moon itself. They say they may simply be meteors streaking past the moon. But now, a NASA researcher says at least one amateur astronomer was right...

Buratti says Stuart was convinced he had witnessed an asteroid crashing into the moon. He published his photo and his theory in a 1956 issue of The Strolling Astronomer, an amateur astronomy newsletter. But professional researchers dismissed Stuart's idea, suggesting that what he actually saw was just a meteoroid burning up in the Earth's atmosphere...

Stuart didn't change his mind. When he died in 1968, he was still convinced he had caught a lunar collision on camera. The incident was known as "Stuart's Event" in astronomy circles...

Paul Lowman, a lunar geologist with NASA, has seen Buratti's study and agrees that Stuart was right -- the doctor had indeed witnessed a major asteroid impact...

Some astronomers still aren't convinced. They say the explosion Stuart described should have appeared as a much bigger fireball on the photograph...

In the meantime, those in astronomy circles are now referring to Stuart's Event as "Stuart's Crater."...


Moon's 'Youngest' Crater Discovered

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor
Friday, 20 December, 2002, 01:57 GMT

Astronomers have discovered the only known lunar crater to have been formed in recorded history.

In 1953, a flash was seen on the Moon that was taken to be the impact of a small asteroid. But ground-based telescopes were not powerful enough to see any crater.

Now, however, researchers have found a small, fresh, crater in the same position as the flash after searching through more detailed images of the Moon obtained by orbiting spacecraft.

It is believed that new small craters are formed on the Moon every few decades, but this is the first one to have been found. 


Stuart's Event

by Roger Wilco

On November 15, 1953 a physician in Tulsa, Oklahoma took a photograph of, what he believed to be, an asteroid impacting the Moon's surface.

Dr. Leon Stuart and his telescope

Photo Courtesy Jerry Stuart

Dr. Leon Stuart was an avid amateur astronomer and early one morning while tinkering with a new camera, he had built for his telescope, he accidentally snapped -what some consider the rarest photo of all- a bright flash on the Moon.  This flare was presumably caused by a massive, white-hot fireball of vaporized rock gasing from the center of the Moon's face.  This ball of light lasted approximately 8 seconds according to Dr. Stuart.  The photograph (seen below) does indicate an event of some sort taking place on the Moon's rugged exterior.

Original photo taken by Dr. Stuart November 15, 1953

Photo Courtesy Dr. Leon Stuart

Close up of the bright flash.

Enlargement Courtesy Lenny Abbey

Convinced he had just witnessed and photographed an extraordinary event, which is now estimated to occur once every 100,000 years, Dr. Stuart logged the following:


Made by Dr. Leon Stuart, Nov. 15, 1953 at 01:00 UT. Lasted 8 to 10 sec. Also observed visually. Star images rather steady, no extraneous lights. Exposure: 1/2 sec. on E.K. 103aF3 plate. 8 inch f/8 reflector.

Position on Lunar surface is about 10 miles S.E. of Pallas. (-0.5; +.08).

If his observation was correct, Dr. Leon Stuart would be the first and only human known in recorded history to have witnessed and documented the impact of an asteroid-sized body colliding with the Moon's ancient surface.

In 1956, Dr. Stuart published his photo and theory in The Strolling Astronomer (Vol.10, 42-43), an amateur astronomy newsletter.  However, skeptical astronomers dismissed Dr. Stuart's data as inconclusive and his theory as wishful thinking.  Their explanations ranged from a meteor (point meteor) burning up in Earth's atmosphere to light aberrations to film problems.  Still, until his death in 1969, [Note: The year of death has sometimes been given as 1968, but to according to official U.S. government data, it was 1969] Dr. Stuart remained convinced that what he'd seen was something impacting upon the Moon.

Largely forgotten outside of astronomy circles, 'Stuart's Event', as it eventually became known, was regarded as no more than a curiousity, with little legitimacy.  Despite decades of mapping orbiters, lunar landers and 6 manned lunar landings, 'Stuart's Event' remained unproven, prompting skeptics to maintain their original line of reasoning.  Yet, after enduring 50 years of skepticism and ridicule, Stuart's theory may finally be proven true by two scientists who have rekindled an interest in this 1953 mystery.

Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti, the principle scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. and Lane Johnson of Pomona College, Claremont, Calif., have been researching this most intriguing event and their findings include some very persuasive evidence which indicates that Stuart's photo was indeed real and is of immense historical value.

"Stuart's remarkable photograph of the collision gave us an excellent starting point in our search," said Buratti. "We were able to estimate the energy produced by the collision. But we calculated that any crater resulting from the collision would have been too small to be seen by even the best Earth-based telescopes, so we looked elsewhere for proof."

Buratti also said,"Using Stuart's photograph of the lunar flash, we estimated the object that hit the Moon was approximately 20 meters (65.6 feet) across, and the resulting crater would be in the range of one to two kilometers (.62 to 1.24 miles) across. We were looking for fresh craters with a non-eroded appearance,"

Intitally, their efforts were unsuccessful as they examined images taken by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft in 1967.  But, upon searching the more detailed imagery from the Clementine spacecraft mission of 1994, they were able to locate and determine a highly likely canidate, a 0.93 mile (1.5 km) wide crater (seen in image below) with bluish tinged material surrounding the impact site.  According to Dr. Buratti, a "fresh" lunar crater has a bluish tinge to its surface, indicating that the lunar subsoil has been exposed and hasn't yet been affected by a process called "space weathering," which reddens the soil. Another sign of a fresh crater is it reflects more sunlight than its surroundings.  In addition to the bluish hue and bright albedo, the crater's size matches what Buratti and Johnson estimate the energy produced by Stuart's flare, which they calculated to be about .5 megatons or 35 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Close up of the bright flash

Photo Courtesy JPL,  Dr. Bonnie Buratti, Lane Johnson

It would seem that Dr. Buratti and Lane Johnson have solved the mystery and vindicated Leon Stuart, yet, oddly enough they have their own detractors.  John E. Westfall, of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, discovered telescopic plates taken by three ground based telescopes that display the bright blip seen in the Clementine images.  The earliest were taken by Mount Wilson's 100-inch Hooker telescope in 1919, the others were taken by the Lick Observatory's 36-inch refractor in 1937, and by the Catalina Observatory's 61-refractor in 1966.  In response to Westfall's revelations, Dr. Buratti said, "It's kind of disappointing, but it's more important to find that out."  Nor does the drubbing end here.   Concerns were raised about the "freshness" of Buratti's and Johmson's candidate crater.  Based on current theory, the solar wind bomabards the lunar surface causing the lunar material to darken and redden, but this "space weathering" requires a period of millions of years.  According to Alan W. Harris, an impact specialist with the Space Science Institute, for Stuart's event to be statistcally possible, 20-meter-wide objects would have to impact the moon frequently, thus splattering the lunar landscape with 100,000 bright, fresh-looking blips, and their not their.  Harris further states, that the observation by Stuart of an 8 second fireball is far too long for such a small crater.  "We now know that an event of that scale should last no longer than a second, but [Stuart] didn't, " notes Harris.

The coup de grace to Buratti's and Johnson's effort was administered by Dennis de Cicco and Gary Seronik, editors of Sky and Telescope magazine, aided by Westfall.  By careful measurment of Stuart's image, they determined that the positional match of the canididate crater was not exact as Buratti and Johnson thought.  The editors and Westfall discovered that the flare is centered 1 degree or 30 km from the Clementine candidate.  This mystery is far from solved, but that it is a mystery is undeniable, since the length of the flash rules out the meteor theory and the perfectly round spot on the photo argues against a stray reflection or emulsion effect.  Whether the mystery of what Dr. Stuart observed will ever be solved or not may hinge on locating the original plate, which in itself maybe an impossible task, since it was lost after undergoing a battery of tests at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in 1967.

Article Copyright 2003 by Weird Space.  Photo copyrights by the respective parties.


You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is an unused scene from Dr. Strangelove, but the United States and the Soviet Union have seriously considered exploding atomic bombs on the Moon.

It was the late 1950s, and the Cold War was extremely chilly. Someone in the US government got the bright idea of nuking the Moon, and in 1958 the Air Force Special Weapons Center spearheaded the project (labeled A119, "A Study of Lunar Research Flights").

The idea was to shock and awe the Soviet Union, and everybody else, with a massive display of American nuclear might. What better demonstration than an atomic explosion on our closest celestial neighbor? According to the project's reports, the flash would've been visible to the naked eye on Earth. (It's been suggested that another motivation may have been to use the Moon as a test range, thus avoiding the problems with irradiating our home planet.)

Carl Sagan was among the scientists lending his intellectual muscle to this hare-brained scheme. The project's leader was physicist Leonard Reiffel, who said: "I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth."

When a reporter for Reuters asked him what had happened to Project A119, Reiffel replied, "After the final report in early- to mid-1959, it simply went away, as things sometimes do in the world of classified activities."

Astoundingly, this wasn't the only time that a nuclear strike on the Moon was contemplated. Science reporter Keay Davidson reveals that "in 1956, W.W. Kellogg of RAND Corporation considered the possibility of launching an atomic bomb to the Moon." In 1957, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory put forth Project Red Socks, the first serious proposal to send spacecraft to the Moon. One of its lesser suggestions was to nuke the Moon in order to send lunar rocks hurtling back to Earth, where they could be collected and studied. The following year, the leading American astronomer of the time, Gerard Kuiper, coauthored a memo which considered the scientific advantages of nuking the Moon. The creator of the hydrogen bomb, physicist Edward Teller, similarly mused about dropping atomic bombs on the Moon in order to study the seismic waves they would create.

The Soviet Union got in on the act, also in the late 1950s. Project E-4 would've used a probe armed with an A-bomb to blast the Moon, apparently as a display of one-upmanship. The idea reached the stage of a full-scale model but was aborted for fear of the probe falling back to Earth. 

Nuke the Moon!
Not likely! The explosion of a nuclear weapon on the moon would be visible as a very brief flash of light
Photo Courtesy

The first idea of exploding a bomb on the lunar surface seems to be in Robert Goddard's "A Method for reaching extreme altitudes". Goddard investigated the possibility of reaching the Moon with a rocket loaded with photographer magnesium powder, in order to record the explosion made by the impact. Instead of carrying out a simple theoretical study, in October 1916 Goddard made an experiment to establish the minimum powder mass to be carried by the rocket. By observing at night from his Worcester home the magnesium flash made in an air evacuated glass ampule located some 3,600 meters away, he determined that the flash made by 0.0029 grams of magnesium was barely visible and the one made by 0.015 grams was plainly so. 

From these data he calculated that, using a 30 cm diameter telescope to observe the impact, the rocket was to carry 1.2 kg of magnesium for the flash to be barely visible and 6.27 kg to be plainly so. To carry this mass to the moon, Goddard estimated that it was necessary to use a rocket of some fifteen tons launch mass, able to accelerate the payload to escape speed. Goddard himself noted that "the plan of sending a mass of flash powder to the surface of the moon, although a matter of much general interest, is not of obvious scientific importance". This was however the first idea of an interplanetary mission to do without of the presence of humans: the first "space probe".

Later, in the Forties, the German born popular science writer Willy Ley further perfected the Goddard idea. He noted in fact that if the terrestrial observers able to observe the lunar impact of the magnesium laden probe were incapacitated by bad weather, the impact may happen without any witness. To counter this problem Ley proposed the impact on the Moon of 0.5 kg of high explosive and 4.5 kg of white powder, possibly powdered glass that, once dispersed on the surface, would have formed a patch of surface more brilliant than the surroundings.

In 1945 US astronomer H. H. Nininger suggested the use of two new technologies developed during the most recent war, guided missiles and atomic weapons, to dislodge lunar soil samples and to carry them toward the Earth, thus providing an artificial imitation of what astronomers believed had happened during the formation of the larger craters or during the eruption of the lunar volcanoes, creating a class of natural glasses called tektites.

In 1957 Kraft Ehricke, an Atlas missile designer and Nobel prize George Gamow proposed a small probe called Cow (after a nursery rhyme) that was to fly by the Moon before returning to Earth one week after launch. A follow-on version was to be preceded by an atomic bomb that was to raise a cloud of vaporized rock. The second probe was then to fly through the cloud, thus returning lunar surface samples to Earth.

In October of the same year, JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) presented its idea of a lunar program that would overshadow Sputnik. The program was called Red Socks and it could include the detonation of an atom bomb on our natural satellite's surface, in order to collect, as Nininger had proposed, any lunar rock that would be hurled to our planet by the explosion and to produce, in the words of JPL's director Pickering to produce "beneficial psychological results".

As the first race to the Moon unfolded, both the USA and the USSR had plans to nuke the Moon.

In parallel with the Able probes' development, the US Air Force started a top secret project, called A119, described euphemistically as a "study of lunar research flights" and only revealed 42 years after its conception.
It was probably based on a still secret RAND Corporation study, started in 1956, aimed at putting a nuclear warhead on the Moon. The same idea was shared by Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb who in February 1957 proposed exploding an atomic bomb at some distance from the lunar surface to observe the fluorescence induced in it or even directly on the surface to observe what kind of disturbance it might cause. Moreover, after being mentioned in project ``Red Socks'', the idea of the emphatically called ISBM (InterSpatial Ballistic Missile) was analyzed in some detail by engineers of Lockheed Space and Missiles Division who determined that a 11 kTon bomb carried by an Agena rocket would have had enough time to explode before being crushed in the impact with the Moon.

However, such a project would probably have been forgotten had the Soviet Union not declared an unilateral nuclear test ban on March 31, 1958. This ban was interrputed on September 30, announced by the United States on October 31 and finally accepted by the Soviet Union in December. The ban was supposed to lead to a total test ban but, for lack of an agreement, the Soviet Union resumed testing on September 1, 1960, followed by the United States four days later. Despite this, for almost two years the two superpowers did not explode a single nuclear

weapon. In this climate of incertitude, it is not surprizing that the US military considered moving their own tests in space, giving them an aura of scientific respectabily. Project A119 was thus started by the US Air Force Special (i.e. nuclear) Weapons Center, its main aim being of sending to the Moon without any warning a fission atomic bomb to impress the Soviets and their allies.

Very few details of the project have been revealeed, and the few ones mostly concern the scientific side. To the project in fact participated from the spring of 1958 a small group of scientists of the Armour Research Fondation of the Illinois Institute of Technology, providing scientifical consultancy on the mission. This group included many well known scientists such as Leonard Reiffel, project chief scientist and later to be the manned Apollo lunar missions scientific instrumentation manager, Gerard P. Kuiper, a Dutch born planetlogist and his doctorate student Carl Sagan, the future famous planetary astronomer, scientist popularizer and author of the science fiction novel Contact. Counting on the accuracy of the launcher, far too optimistically estimated as "a couple of miles" at the Moon's distance, it was decided to explode the bomb on the night side close to the terminator, in order to maximize visiblity. Whatever the yield of the bomb and contrary to Kuiper's calculations, the crater created by the explosion would not have been visible: a 1 kiloton bomb would have digged a 50 meters diameter crater and a 1 megaton a less than 400 meters diameter one.

In contrast to the similar Soviet project of which more later, the American project never reached the mission hardware stage. We thus ignore the chosen launcher, probably an uprated version of the Atlas or Titan ICBM and the characteristics of the bomb. The final scientific report on the mission, signed by Reiffel and recently made public through the Freedom Of Information Act, envisages the possibility of usign weapons yelding as much as a megaton (one million tons of TNT) but the most probable choice, because of mass limitations, would have been a bomb at least as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima (some twenty kilotons). Although the aim of the mission was a different one, the report describes the possible scientific fallout of the lunar explosion, mainly relating to the possiblity of studying the thermal characteristics of the surface exposed to the explosion's heat, of collecting data on the internal structure of the Moon and particularly on the existence of a metallic nucleus, if one to three seismometers had been placed on the surface in anticipation of the explosion, of studying the rock composition and the presence of a magnetic field.

Other scientific investigations related to the project were carried out by Sagan but we only know the titles of these: "Possible Contribution of Lunar Nuclear Weapons Detonations to the Solution of Some Problems in Planetary Astronomy" and "Radiological Contamination of the Moon by Nuclear Weapons Detonations". This second paper, in particular, dealt with the effects of radioactive fallout on the surface of the Moon, which could have altered Lunar geology research for centuries to come. Of course the military were not at all concerned by this problem.

However, Reiffel himself was skeptical in his report of the opportunity of staging such a mission, noting that the reaction of the unprepared public opinion to the explosion of an atom bomb on the Moon would have probably been negative. As the mission was mainly designed as a public relations exercise, it is not surprising that the project was terminated in January 1959. Alas, many documents on project A119 were destroyed during the Eighties by the Illinois Institute of Technology and it is thus unlikely that other informations may surface in the future. 

Rest of article with related info... Nuke the Moon

Original Source: Nuke the Moon

Air Force Had Plans to Nuke Moon

posted: 11:16 am ET
14 May 2000

The U.S. Air Force developed a top-secret Cold War plan to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon in the 1950s.

In a letter to the journal Nature, physicist Leonard Reiffel, leader of the effort which was called Project A 119, wrote that the Air Force wanted to explore the effects of exploding a nuclear bomb on the moons face. The Air Force wanted the explosion to be clearly visible from Earth.

Reiffel wrote that the military leaders did not seem concerned with the loss to science that would have resulted from a large atomic explosion on the moons surface. Let alone what it may have done to the appearance of the "man in the moon."

Part of the team researching the hypothetical explosion was a young Carl Sagan, who was recruited to study how the mushroom cloud would expand and collapse under the moons lighter gravity. Sagan proposed that a legitimate scientific purpose for the explosion could have been examining the cloud for possible organic material.

Years later, Sagan apparently presented some of the results of his research on the project in an application for an academic fellowship. Reiffel believes that by doing so Sagan breached national security, as the primary secret of the project was its very existence. This breach of security was discussed in a recent biography of the astronomer, but was not detailed in that book.

Striking the moon with one of the then-available Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) was entirely feasible, Reiffel wrote, to an accuracy within a couple of miles (kilometers). 


Quote from Bad Astronomy Site
Posted by eburacum45 Senior Member

One interesting aspect of an atomic blast on the Moon would be that the classic 'mushroom cloud' wouldn't form. This cloud is basically a convection phenomenon, formed when the atmosphere of the Earth is locally heated into an incandescent ball of gas, which has low density and rises, while the air surrounding this fireball is also heated and rises into a column, dragging dust up into the air surrounding the fireball (this dust becomes irradiated and is converted into radioactive 'fallout' dust, much of which would be carried away into the upper atmosphere and transported various distances).

None of this would happen on the Moon; there would be a bright flash, and a crater would form, depending on the height if the explosion; a 'splash' of dust and evaporated rock would be expelled outwards from the crater region, and the mass of the bomb itself would be converted into a very hot (but rapidly dissipating) plasma which would expand in a rough sphere in all directions above the crater and its splash. Yes, the splash of dust and pulverised rock would become irradiated, but this fallout dust would fall rapidly back to the Moon in a starlike pattern of ejecta, and very little would be carried away by the Moon's very thin atmosphere.
That atmosphere would suddenly become somewhat thicker around any such detonation for a short period, because of vaporised material from the Moon's crust and the bomb itself - but would still be a pretty high grade vacuum. You might get an aurora on the Moon for a brief period.

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