Here's What It'll Look Like When Rocket Crashes Into Moon

Moon dust to fly hundreds of miles from impact crater, which is expected to be quite large
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 2, 2022 9:54 AM CST
Here's What It'll Look Like When Rocket Crashes Into Moon
Impact craters cover the surface of the moon, seen from Berlin on Jan. 11, 2022.   (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

The moon is about to get walloped by 3 tons of space junk, a punch that will carve out a crater that could fit several semitractor-trailers. A leftover rocket will smash into the far side of the moon at 5,800mph on Friday, away from telescopes' prying eyes, the AP reports. It may take weeks, even months, to confirm the impact through satellite images. Experts believe it's been tumbling haphazardly through space since China launched it nearly a decade ago. Chinese officials are dubious it's theirs. However, the US Space Command, which tracks lower space junk, confirmed Tuesday that the Chinese upper stage from a 2014 lunar mission never deorbited, as previously indicated in its database.

Still, it couldn't confirm the country of origin for the object scientists expect will carve out a hole 33 feet to 66 feet across and send moon dust flying hundreds of miles across the barren, pockmarked surface. "We focus on objects closer to the Earth," a spokesperson said in a statement. But asteroid tracker Bill Gray, a mathematician and physicist who first identified the collision course in January, said he's confident now that it's a Chinese rocket part, based not only on orbital tracking back to its 2014 liftoff, but also on data received from its short-lived ham radio experiment. "I really just don't see any way it could be anything else," he told the AP.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Center for Near Earth Object Studies endorses Gray's reassessment. A University of Arizona team also recently identified the Chinese Long March rocket segment from the light reflected off its paint, during telescope observations of the careening cylinder. China has a lunar lander on the moon's far side, but it will be too far away to detect Friday's impact just north of the equator. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be out of range. It's unlikely India's moon-orbiting Chandrayaan-2 will be passing by then, either. To prevent future uncertainty, Gray and others are calling for systematic tracking of space junk, which only a handful of skywatchers appear to monitor in their spare time. (Read more space stories.)

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