A piece of space junk from the rocket has collided with the moon, carving an unusual double crater into the lunar surface.
NASA has just released images of the overlapping craters, created when a mysterious piece of leftover rocket collided with the moon on March 4.
The images were taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the moon since 2009. The images show an eastern crater that is 18 meters wide and a western crater that is 16 meters wide. Together they have created a depression on the lunar surface that is about 28 meters wide at its widest point.
Although astronomers knew the piece of rocket was on a collision course with the moon, there has been debate about where the space junk came from.
NASA said in a statement on June 24 that it remained uncertain about the rocket’s origin, but that the double crater it created may provide a clue.
“The double crater was unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end,” NASA said.
“Normally a used* rocket has mass concentrated* on the engine side; the rest of the rocket stage* consists mainly of an empty fuel tank.
“As the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the dual nature of the crater may indicate its identity.”
While NASA isn’t sure of the origin of the space junk, US asteroid tracker Bill Gray, who first identified the collision course in January, believes the piece of rocket is likely the third stage of a Chinese Long March rocket launching a test sample capsule. to the moon and back in its Chang’e-5 T1 mission in 2014.
However, Chinese officials are not convinced that the debris* belongs to them, saying that the upper stage of that rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned.
Unlike Earth, the Moon doesn’t have a protective atmosphere*, so it’s riddled with craters created when objects like asteroids regularly crash into its surface.
Spacecraft, including those involved in the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s, have also deliberately crashed into the moon.
But this was the first time experts know that a piece of space junk has inadvertently hit the lunar surface.
When he first identified the collision course, Mr. Gray thought the space junk was a booster from a SpaceX Falcon rocket launched for NASA in 2015. But he corrected himself a month later and pointed the finger* at the Chinese Long March missile.
The US Space Command tracks lower space debris, but no agency has a system to track space debris this far from Earth, meaning they rely on the work of astronomy* enthusiasts* and academics* like Mr. Gray.
The Natural History Museum says there are about 2,000 active satellites in orbit right now, but there are also 3,000 dead satellites in space.
There are also about 34,000 pieces of space junk larger than 10 cm and millions of smaller pieces that can do a lot of damage if they hit something else in space.
- spent: used and cannot be reused
- concentrated: gathered in one place
- rocket stage: missile section or segment
- debris: pieces broken off from something bigger
- atmosphere: the gases or air that surround planets
- point the finger: to blame
- astronomy: the study of everything in the universe outside the Earth’s atmosphere
- lovers: people who are very interested in a particular activity or topic
- academics: people who teach or conduct research at universities
- On what date did the space junk collapse on the moon?
- How big are the craters left by the space junk?
- Why does NASA think the space junk left behind a double crater?
- Who first discovered the collision course of the space junk?
- How many dead satellites are polluting space?
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Using information from this news story, calculate the approximate area of the new “double crater” on the moon’s surface.
Please explain how you arrived at your answer. (There are several ways you can work out your answer. Consider drawing a scale diagram on 1cm grid paper or using Pi to help you out.)
Time: give 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Math
Write a dramatic narrative paragraph about the moment a piece of “space junk” collides with something else in space.
Time: give 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
After reading the article, use your comprehension to summarize what the article is about in no more than three sentences.
- What is the main topic or idea?
- What is an important or interesting fact?
- Who was involved (people or places)?
Use your VCOP skills to reread your summary to make sure it’s clear, specific, and well broken.
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