Experts say a SpaceX rocket is on a collision course with the Moon after nearly seven years in space.
The booster was originally launched from Florida in February 2015 as part of an interplanetary mission to send a space weather satellite on a million-mile journey.
But after a long burn of its engines and sending NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory on its way to the so-called Lagrange point—four times further from the Moon and a gravity-neutral position in direct line with the Sun—the rocket’s second stage deserted. done.
At this stage it was so high that it did not have enough fuel to return to Earth’s atmosphere, but “lacked the energy to escape the gravity of the Earth-Moon system”, meteorologist Eric Berger recently told Ars Technica. But explained in a post.
“So it’s been following some chaotic orbit since February 2015,” Berger said.
Space observers believe the rocket – about four metric tons of “space junk” – is on course to intersect with the Moon in a matter of weeks at a velocity of about 2.58 km/s.
Bill Gray, who writes software to track near-Earth objects, asteroids, minor planets and comets, has said that the upper stage of Falcon 9 will hit the far side of the Moon, near the equator, on March 4.
The data analyst said in a recent blog post that the object “made a close lunar flyby on January 5th” but will make “a definite impact on March 4th”.
“This is the first unintentional case [of space junk hitting the moon] Of which I know,” said Gray.
The exact location at which the rocket will hit remains unknown, due to the unexpected effect of the “push” of sunlight on the rocket and the “ambiguity in measuring the rotation period”, which could slightly alter its orbit.
“These unexpected impacts are very small. But they will accumulate between now and March 4,” Gray wrote, adding that further observations were needed to refine the exact timing and location of the impact.
As for whether the collision can be seen from Earth, Gray says it will probably go unnoticed.
“The bulk of the Moon is in the way, and even if it is on the near side, the impact occurs a few days after the new moon.”
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, wrote that the impact was due to occur on March 4 but was “no big deal”.
Still, space enthusiasts believe the impact could provide valuable data.
Berger believes the event will allow the observation of subsurface material ejected from the rocket’s strike, while Gray says he “implied for a lunar impact”.
“We already know what happens when junk hits Earth; there’s not much to learn from it,” he said.