- 20:02, 7 Mar 2022
- Updated: 20:02, 7 Mar 2022
AN OUT-OF-CONTROL rocket part the size of a school bus has likely smashed into the Moon’s surface by now.
According to astronomers, a rocket booster was set to hit the lunar surface at around 7.25am ET (12:25 GMT) after spending nearly eight years tumbling through space.
It was likely the first time a manmade object has crashed into another space body without being aimed there, but we won’t know that it hit the Moon for sure until two satellites that orbit the Moon pass over the possible impact site and photograph any crater that resulted from the collision, the BBC reported.
The rocket part was first spotted by Bill Gray, who writes the popular Project Pluto software to track near-Earth objects.
He reported that the junk was a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage launched from Florida by Elon Musk’s team in February 2015.
However, Bill later retracted his claim and said the rocket part most likely belonged to China. China has since denied the accusation.
Read our rocket moon crash live blog for the latest news and updates…
Impact won’t be visible
The rocket part was xpected to hit the Moon on March 4, where it will leave a crater about 65 feet in diameter on the surface but unfortunately, it won’t be possible to see the impact live as the tumbling rocket part is expected to hit the Moon’s far side – the part that faces away from Earth.
Instead, astronomers will rely on images taken by satellites including Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to view what happens after the collision.
Primary moon phases
Out of the eight moon phases, only four of them are considered primary (Full, First, New, Third).
Each of the four primary phases lasts for about a week, making the full moon cycle last for approximately a month.
What are the moon phases?
There are eight moon phases:
- Full Moon
- Waxing Gibbous
- First Quarter
- Waxing Crescent
- New Moon
- Waning Crescent
- Third Quarter
- Waning Gibbous
Explained: How the Moon was created
The giant-impact theory is the widely most accepted today.
It proposes that the Moon formed during a collision between the Earth and another small planet, about the size of Mars.
The debris from this impact collected in an orbit around Earth to form the Moon.
What else has crashed into the Moon, part three
The US space agency has also been responsible for crashing items into the Moon.
For example, Apollo 10 dropped half of its Snoopy module onto the Moon in May 1969.
Nasa also intentionally crashed its LCROSS mission into the Moon in 2009.
Thankfully, it is unlikely the Moon has suffered too much from all these crashes, but it does have a few more craters as a result fo the collisions.
What else has crashed into the Moon, continued
Every Moon mission comes with the risk of crashing something into the Moon, and that exact thing happened with India’s Chandrayaan-2 Moon lander, also called Vikram.
The lander lost communication with Earth and crashed into the lunar surface in September 2019 even though it was supposed to descend gently onto the Moon’s south pole.
However, it crash-landed by accident.
What else has crashed into the Moon?
The Moon has been the victim of multiple space debris crashes over time.
The Soviet Union’s Luna 2 is thought to be the first manmade spacecraft to crash into the Moon, for instance.
This happened in 1959, eight months after the failed mission of Luna 1.
Luna 1 was supposed to reach the Moon but missed, and it is still floating around in space somewhere.
Moon crash confusion
People on social media were confused on Friday about the rocket part, and whether it had actually crashed on the moon or not.
“Anyone know if the #moon crash has happened?” one person wrote.
“Doesn’t something crash into the moon today?? ??” another person tweeted.
NASA prepared for ‘unique event’
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter monitored the moon’s exosphere for any changes as a result of the impact of the rocket booster to the moon, Space.com reported.
LRO “will not be in a position to observe the impact as it happens. However, the mission team is assessing if observations can be made to any changes to the lunar environment associated with the impact and later identify the crater formed by the impact,” NASA officials said in a statement given to Inside Outer Space and cited by Space.com
“This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity,” the officials added.
“Following the impact, the mission can use its cameras to identify the impact site, comparing older images to images taken after the impact. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months.”
Crater won’t be the first on the Moon
If the rocket booster creates a crater on the Moon from the impact, it won’t be the only crater on the Moon, CNN noted.
The Moon has no protective atmosphere, so impact craters occur naturally when it’s hit by objects like asteroids regularly.
What time did the rocket hit?
Experts claim the incident occurred at 7.25am EST on the lunar far side, out of reach of ground-based observatories.
Where did the rocket hit?
The collision likely occurred on the far side of the Moon on Friday.
The one-tonne hunk of space junk was previously traveling at around 2.6 km per second.
Rocket body company, continued
Bill Gray, the manager of Project Pluto, which provides both commercial and free astronomy software to amateur and professional astronomers, is one of the persons who has made the China link, per Space.com.
“There really is no good reason at this point to think the object is anything other than the Chang’e 5-T1 booster,” Gray told Inside Outer Space last month.
“Anybody claiming otherwise has a pretty large hill of evidence to overcome.”
What company does the rocket body belong to?
The top stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) in 2015 was first considered to be the rocket body.
The object, however, is now linked to China’s Long March 3C rocket, which launched China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission in 2014, according to Space.com.
Chang’e 5-T1 circled beyond the moon and returned to Earth to test the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission’s atmospheric re-entry capabilities in 2020.
On behalf of the Luxembourg-based business LuxSpace, Chang’e 5-T1 carried a secondary payload of scientific equipment in the upper stage of the Long March rocket.
Who predicted the collision, continued
“Back in 2015, I (mis)identified this object as 2015-007B, the second stage of the DSCOVR spacecraft,” Gray wrote on February 12.
“We now have good evidence that it is actually 2014-065B, the booster for the Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission.”
Who predicted the collision?
In January, space trackers calculated that a piece of manmade debris was on course to hit the Moon and it was first spotted by Bill Gray, who writes the popular Project Pluto software to track near-Earth objects.
He reported that the junk was a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage launched from Florida in February 2015.
It was on a mission to deploy an Earth observation satellite called DSCOVR for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
However, Gray later retracted his claim and said the rocket part most likely belonged to China, and China has since denied the accusation.
How to send your name around the moon
You need to go to Nasa’s official website for the Artemis mission.
That’s available here.
You need to enter your name and a custom PIN, which will generate your boarding pass.
The PIN needs to be 4 to 7 digits.
Remember the PIN, as this will allow you access your boarding pass in the future.
Will photos be taken of the crash site?
Once the dust has settled, Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will move into position to snap images of whatever’s left behind.
These images could prove crucial to scientists hoping to get a better understanding of space collisions.
They could also help to determine once and for all the origins of the rocket by studying whatever manmade debris is left behind.
What if someone died on a longer space trip?
More problems arise for longer missions.
Experts Christopher Newman and Nick Caplan wrote in The Conversation that they think a dead body on a year-long trip to Mars would need to be frozen, perhaps toward the outside of the spacecraft, in order to bring it back to Earth safely.
This could also reduce a dead body’s weight and save space in the craft.
The space researchers also suggest that as we colonize space, bodies may have to be disposed of rather than preserved.
Burials would contaminate planets, but catapulting bodies into the abyss of space would lead to moral and space debris issues.
What would happen if someone dies on a space trip?
If someone were to die during a space tourism flight, it could land the specific company in legal trouble and an investigation into the duty of care.
Legal concerns would be the least of the crews worries though as they’d need to work out what to do with the body.
If it’s a short spaceflight, it would be easy enough to store the body and bring it back to Earth.
According to space experts Christopher Newman and Nick Caplan, the body would need to be kept cool to prevent decomposition and stored somewhere that wouldn’t contaminate the other crew members.
Has anyone died in space?
Around 30 astronauts and cosmonauts have died while attempting space missions.
Seven astronauts died when Nasa’s Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after launch in 1986.
A further seven astronauts died when Nasa’s Columbia shuttle broke up when it returned to Earth in 2003.
These tragic events were shocking and killed all crew members on board.
No spaceflight has been able to teach us what would happen if one crew member dies during a mission while everyone else is alive and fit enough to continue.
First unintentional crash
Without including the probes that have crashed while attempting to land on the moon, this was the first known inadvertent lunar collision involving a piece of space gear.
European Space Agency commented
The European Space Agency commented on the upcoming collision of the rocket booster and the Moon’s surface.
“This still-evolving finding underscores the need for enhanced space tracking, and greater data sharing between spacecraft operators, launch providers, and the astronomy and space surveillance communities,” the agency wrote.
Did SpaceX respond?
The SpaceX Twitter account doesn’t show any sort of recent response to the accusations that the rocket booster belonged to the company.
In fact, the rocket part most likely belonged to China, not Elon Musk’s company.
China has since denied the accusation.
Has space junk hit the Moon before?
As part of its LCROSS mission, in 2009 Nasa deliberately smashed a rocket booster into the Moon in hopes of learning something from the debris it left behind.
“In essence, this is a ‘free’ LCROSS… except we probably won’t see the impact,” Bill Gray, who writes the popular Project Pluto software to track near-Earth objects, wrote in January.