NASA has photographed the crash site of the mysterious rocket that slammed into the far side of the moon in March, and the unidentified spacecraft has left behind a strange double crater that puzzles scientists.
Images of the crash site were captured on May 25 by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and issued on June 24. The photos show that the wayward debris (the origin of which is still disputed) somehow ejected two overlapping craters as it was consumed in the other side of the Moon traveling at about 5,770 mph (9,290 km/h).
The unexpected double craters add an extra layer of strangeness to a mystery that has puzzled space viewers since January, when Bill Gray, an American astronomer and developer of software that tracks near-Earth objects, predicted that the orbiting piece of space junk would hit the far side of the moon within months, Live Science previously reported. When Gray first saw the debris, he suggested it was the second stage of a Falcon X rocket launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2015. But later observations and analysis of orbital data hinted that the object spent upper stage of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 missilea spaceship (named after the Chinese moon goddess† which was launched in 2014. However, Chinese officials disagreed, claiming that the top stage of this missile had been set on fire from the earth atmosphere years ago.
At least 47 rocket bodies have crashed on the moon to date, according to NASA Arizona State Universitybut “the double crater was unexpected”, NASA wrote in a statement† “No other rocket body impact on the moon created double craters.”
Although scientists couldn’t directly detect the moment of impact, experts predicted that the discarded rocket stage would hit the lunar surface at the Hertzsprung crater on the far side of the moon, on March 4 at 7:25 a.m. EST (12:25 GMT). Observations from the LRO show the two notches on the lunar surface — the eastern crater is 59 feet (18 meters) wide, while the western crater is 52.5 feet (16 m) wide. If NASA’s LRO had been positioned to capture images of the impact, it likely would have documented a plume of lunar dust erupting hundreds of miles high.
Scientists are still hypothesizing what might have caused the two craters. One possibility is that the craters were formed by a piece of debris with two large masses at each end — although this scenario would be unusual, NASA representatives said.
“Normally, a spent rocket has mass concentrated on the engine side; the rest of the rocket stage consists mainly of an empty fuel tank,” the statement said.
Is it really Chang’e 5-T1 booster?
Since the rocket booster likely completely disintegrated on impact, it’s uncertain whether the examination of the craters will yield any significant clue to its controversial origin. But some astronomers think they’ve already uncovered most of the mystery. Gray wrote on his blog shortly after the images were released, the object has been identified “quite convincingly as the Chang’e 5-T1 booster”.
“I’m pretty sure there’s no way it could be something else,” Gray told Live Science. “Right now we rarely get anything so sure.”
Gray made his first prediction that the controversial debris would collide with the moon after it was spotted through space in March 2015. The object (temporarily named WE0913A) was first observed by the Catalina Sky Survey, a series of telescopes near Tucson, Arizona that scan our cosmic environment for dangerous asteroids that could impact Earth. WE0913A was not about the Sunsuch as a asteroid would do, but instead orbited the Earth. Gray suspected that the object was man-made.
After Gray initially misidentified the mysterious trash can as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Gray went back to the data to find that another spacecraft nearly matched the trajectory of the moonbound debris: the upper stage of the Chang’e 5 T1 mission in China, launched in October 2014 as part of a preparatory mission to send a test capsule to the Moon and back.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials denied that the space debris belongs to them, claiming that the Chang’e 5 rocket had already burned up during its return trip to Earth in 2014. But US experts disputed this claim, suggesting that Chinese officials use the rocket. of 2014. with a similar rocket from a mission in 2020, and that the first one has hit the moon. On March 1, the US Department of Defense space command, which tracks space debris in low Earth orbit, released a statement say the Chinese missile of 2014 never got out of orbit.
Gray believes his orbital data, which corresponds almost perfectly to the initial trajectory of the Chinese rocket, is convincing.
“It’s in orbit that a lot of lunar missions take; its inclination means it passed over China in the past; it went east like Chinese lunar missions do; and the estimated launch time is within 20 minutes of the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket,” Gray said.
An amateur radio satellite (or “cubesat”) was attached to the Chang’e 5-T1 for the first 19 days of its flight, and the orbital data returned by that satellite perfectly matches the current trajectory of the missile debris, according to Gray . Others have also found important evidence supporting Gray’s conclusion; NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies confirmed Gray’s analysis of the orbital data, and a team from the University of Arizona identified the rocket as part of the Chang’e 5-T1 mission by analyzing the light spectrum reflected from paint on the crashed rubble .
While this is the first piece of space junk to inadvertently collide with the moon, it isn’t the first time a man-made satellite has crashed there. In 2009, NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite was deliberately fired at 5,600 mph (9,000 km/h) at the moon’s south pole, unleashing a plume that allowed scientists to detect the chemical signatures of water ice. NASA also removed the Saturn V rockets from the Apollo program by hurling them at the moon.
Gray said the confusion surrounding the object’s identity makes it clear that space agencies and private companies around the world need to develop better procedures for tracking the rockets they send into deep space (which would also prevent such objects from being mistaken for asteroids). that threaten the earth).
“From my selfish point of view, it would help us track asteroids better,” Gray said. “The care given to satellites in low Earth orbit has not been applied to satellites in high Earth orbit because people thought it really didn’t matter. I hope, now that the US is considering withdrawing going to the moon and other countries if you send stuff there too can change that attitude.”
Originally published on Live Science.
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