A piece of Chinese rocket hit the Moon this morning
After years of deep space zooming, an alleged remnant of a Chinese rocket slammed into the Moon today, just as space tracking experts expected. At least he should hit the Moon around 7:30 a.m. ET this morning, as long as the law of gravity did not change. The collision ends the rocket’s life in space and likely leaves a new crater on the Moon that can be up to 65 feet wide.
The now-expired rocket made a lot of noise last month. First, the vehicle was never intended to crash into the Moon, making it a rare piece of space junk to find its way to the lunar surface by accident. Additionally, there was some confusion over its identity, with various groups trying to determine exactly where the rocket came from.
Originally, space trackers thought it was a remnant of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched a weather satellite in 2015. But after careful analysis, various space tracker groups have confirmed that the The rocket was likely a leftover from China’s Chang’ Launch 5-T1 mission — a flight launched in 2014 to test the technology needed to bring samples back from the Moon. This mission, launched on a Chinese Long March 3C rocket, sent a spacecraft looping around the Moon in an attempt to see if China could send a vehicle to the Moon and then bring it back to Earth. Given the flight profile of the Chang’e 5-T1 mission and the tracking of the mysterious object, astronomers are fairly certain that a piece of the Long March 3C rocket remained in an extremely elongated orbit around the Earth from, to find its way to the far side of the Moon.
China tried to deny the rocket belonged to the country’s space program, saying the rocket actually returned to our planet and fell through the atmosphere. “According to China’s monitoring, the upper stage of the Chang’e-5 mission rocket fell into the Earth’s atmosphere safely and completely burned up,” said Wang Wenbin, a Chinese ministry spokesperson. Foreign Affairs. said at a press conference in February after trackers changed the identity of the rocket. However, Wang may have mixed up his Chinese assignments. Chang’e-5 was a completely different mission that was launched in 2020, while astronomers believe this rocket originated from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which took place six years earlier.
Another confusion revolved around the fact that the Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) – which monitors space debris around Earth – noted on its tracking website that the Chang’e 5 mission rocket -T1 returned to our planet about a year after launch and burned up in our atmosphere. However, the 18SPCS later confirmed in a statement to The edge that the Long March 3C of the flight did do not actually reentering our atmosphere and has been in space since launch.
While the 18SPCS update lends credence to the idea that the rocket is from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, it won’t say for sure that’s the object’s origin. “The 18th Space Control Squadron is currently determining the appropriate space catalog update,” Major Annmarie Annicelli, chief of the U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Operations Division, said in a statement emailed to The edge. “While the US Space Command can confirm that the CHANG’E 5-T1 rocket body was never desorbed, we cannot confirm the country of origin of the rocket body which may impact the moon.”
The reason 18SPCS doesn’t have good data here is that it’s not really concerned with tracking deep space debris like this. 18SPCS is much more focused on tracking space debris in closer Earth orbits, as the space environment there has become much more cluttered. This population of objects has increased dramatically in recent decades, especially after Russia intentionally destroyed one of its own satellites during an anti-satellite test, or ASAT test, in November. The 18SPCS claimed that once the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket passed more than 22,000 miles beyond Earth, their official trackers lost priority in tracking the object. They plan to revise the database, however, to reflect more up-to-date information.
But while 18SPCS can’t confirm or deny the source of the space junk, astronomers are fairly certain the rocket came from Chang’e 5-T1. and that it is now sprayed on the lunar surface. The disappearance of the rocket was first predicted by Bill Graya current astronomer and asteroid tracker Pluto Projectwhich has been following the rocket quite closely for a few months.
The collision shouldn’t really be a cause for concern, especially since we’ve already crashed many objects on the lunar surface. Pieces of rockets from the Apollo missions to the Moon were sent to the lunar surface, and NASA deliberately crashed a spacecraft on the Moon in 2009 called LCROSS in order to blast some lunar dirt and see what materials were hiding underneath. the surface. All of these past crashes were usually intentional, however, and those that weren’t usually involved a lunar lander or Moon-bound vehicle coming in a bit too hard. This may be the first time a spacecraft that wasn’t supposed to go to the surface of the Moon has made it there anyway. Or at least, this is the first time we know of it.
Gray and others have used this episode to explain why we need better plans to clear our deep space debris and why we need to track trash that goes to very high altitudes like this. But now that the rocket has made an impact, its remains could be interesting to study. The team behind NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is currently orbiting the Moon, says they will try to see the aftermath of the crash if they can. Gray predicted that the rocket likely hit the Moon in a distant crater called Hertzsprung.
“We certainly have an interest in finding the impact crater and will try to do so over the coming weeks and months,” John Keller, assistant project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, sent to The edge in a report. “We won’t be near the impact site when it happens, so we won’t be able to observe it directly. Narrow-angle onboard cameras have sufficient resolution to detect the crater, but the Moon is full of new impact craters, so positive identification is based on before and after images in similar lighting conditions.
Hopefully the LRO team can find it and give us a picture of the final resting place of the Long March 3C rocket, and maybe we can use this whole ordeal as an opportunity to see what kinds of materials the collision may have dig up.