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By Nadia Drake - Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
Meteorites colliding with the moon sometimes set off tiny lights dancing across its surface. Now scientists think they know what powers these lunar lightbulbs, in the absence of any atmosphere that would otherwise set incoming meteors ablaze: The flashes result from superhot material kicked up by the tiny objects striking the moon’s surface.
“You have just a small piece of cometary material or asteroid, about 10 centimeters, that can do a very bright flash visible from the Earth,” says study coauthor Sylvain Bouley, a planetary scientist at the Paris Observatory.
The study, which will appear in March in Icarus, settles an old debate about where the twinkling lunar lights come from. Observed for more than half a millennium, lunar impacts occur hundreds of times each year. Meteor showers, like the Leonids in November, can dump as many as 20 objects on the moon in one night.
And characterizing impact hazards is useful for anyone thinking about developing a future moon base, says study coauthor and planetary scientist David Baratoux of the University of Toulouse in France.
“It will be important to know how much of this impact will form on the moon,” Baratoux says. “How big are the projectiles, and how fast they go and so on.”
They found that impacts were hot enough to release a mix of gas and liquid from the destroyed impactor. Some of that liquid, called melt droplets, produces light as it cools, creating the flash.
“Something is melting, and because it’s so hot, it radiates in the visible wavelength until it cools down,”
Naphthalene is an organic compound with formula C10H8. It is a white crystalline solid with a characteristic odor that is detectable at concentrations as low as 0.08 ppm by mass.
In 1821, John Kidd described many of this substance's properties and the means of its production, and proposed the name naphthaline, as it had been derived from a kind of naphtha (a broad term encompassing any volatile, flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture, including coal tar).
Naphthalene has been found in meteorites. It has also been discovered in the interstellar medium in the direction of the star Cernis 52 in the constellation Perseus.