A 3-Ton Rocket Careening Wildly At 5,771 MPH Smashed Into The Moon Today
The discarded upper stage of a rocket that is believed to have launched sometime in 2014 was scheduled to impact the moon's surface earlier this morning. Being the impact is on the far side of the moon, it was impossible to view. However, evidence of the impact may be obtained in the coming weeks or months. Satellites orbiting the moon, such as NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India's Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, should be able to identify the impact crater once they have orbited overhead.
There has been a bit of confusion as to exactly what space debris was actually going to make impact. The object was first detected in March 2015 by telescopes in Arizona, and has since been tracked by U.S. astronomer and developer of the asteroid-tracking software Project Pluto, Bill Gray. Gray first thought it to be the remnants of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched in February 2015. Since then, Gray has changed his opinion and now believes it is the upper stage of a Chinese rocket launched in October of 2014 as part of the Chang'e 5-T1 mission. Chinese foreign ministry officials have disputed this claim.
Scientists are enthusiastic about finding out more about the impact from today. Because the size and speed of the object is known from the impact today, if the impact can be identified and measured it can be used as a measuring stick for understanding other craters on the moon's surface. Also, scientists are hopeful that they will be able to gain a better understanding the composition of the moon's subsurface.
In an emailed statement to Space.com, NASA stated, "This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity. Following the impact, the mission (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) 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."