NASA said Thursday it aims to study the crater that formed when the remains of a SpaceX rocket are expected to crash on the moon in early March, calling the event “an exciting research opportunity.”
The rocket was used to launch a NASA satellite into orbit in 2015, and its second stage, or booster, has been floating in the cosmos ever since, a common fate for such pieces of space technology.
“On its current trajectory, the second stage is expected to impact on the far side of the moon on March 4, 2022,” a NASA spokeswoman told AFP.
The impact of the four-ton rocket chunk will not be visible in real-time from Earth, nor will NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), currently orbiting the moon, “be able to observe the impact as it happens.” . said the spokeswoman.
However, the LRO could later be used to capture images for before and after comparisons.
Locating the crater “will be challenging and will take weeks to months,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the “unique event represents an exciting research opportunity.”
Studying a crater formed by a speeding object of known mass and speed (it will be moving at 9,000 kilometers per hour) and the material thrown up by the impact could help advance selenology, or the scientific study of the Moon.
Spacecraft have intentionally crashed into the moon for scientific purposes, such as during the Apollo missions to test seismometers, but this is the first unintentional collision to be discovered.
Astronomer Bill Gray, creator of software for determining the orbits of asteroids and other objects, was the first to calculate the booster’s new collision course with the moon.
In his opinion, space junk should always be aimed at the moon: “When it hits the moon, we actually learn something from it,” says Gray.
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