Space junk on a 5,800 mph collision with the moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The moon is about to be surrounded by 3 tons of space junk, one punch will create a crater that can hold several stretches.

The leftover rocket will plunge into the far side of the moon at 5,800 mph (9,300 km/h) on Friday, away from the prying eyes of the telescope. It can take weeks, even months, to confirm the impact via satellite imagery.

Experts believe it has been messing around in space since China launched it nearly a decade ago. But Chinese officials don’t believe it’s theirs.

Whoever it is, scientists expect the object to create a hole 33 feet to 66 feet (10 to 20 meters) across and send lunar dust hundreds of miles (km) across the surface. barren, full of pits.

Low-orbit space junk is relatively easy to track. Objects launched deeper into space are unlikely to collide with anything, and these distant pieces are often forgotten soon, except for a few observers who like to play celestial detective on the side.

SpaceX initially took on the rap for the upcoming lunar season after asteroid watcher Bill Gray identified the collision course in January. A month later, he corrected himself, saying that the “mysterious” object was not an upper-stage SpaceX Falcon rocket from the launch of NASA’s deep space climate observatory in 2015.

Gray said this could be the third stage of a rocket China sent a prototype capsule to the moon and back in 2014. But Chinese ministry officials say the upper stage has turned returned to Earth’s atmosphere and ignited.

But there are two Chinese missions with similar names – the test flight and the lunar sample return mission in 2020 – and American observers believe the two are confusing.

U.S. Space Command, the agency that tracks space junk below, confirmed on Tuesday that China’s upper deck from the 2014 moon mission never deteriorated, as indicated. previously in their database. But it cannot confirm the country of origin of the object that is about to hit the moon.

“We focus on objects closer to Earth,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Gray, a mathematician and physicist, said he was now confident it was a Chinese rocket.

“I have become a little more cautious on such matters,” he said. “But I really don’t see any way it could be anything else.”

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics supports Gray’s revised assessment, but notes: “The effect will be the same. It will leave another small crater on the moon. “

The moon already has numerous craters, up to 1,600 miles (2,500 km) wide. With little or no real atmosphere, the moon is defenseless against the constant onslaught of meteors and asteroids, and the occasional spacecraft, including a few The idea is dropped for scientific reasons. There is no weathering, no erosion, and thus impact craters last forever.

China has a lunar lander on the far side of the moon, but it will be too far away to detect Friday’s impact just north of the equator. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be out of range. It is unlikely that Chandrayaan-2 orbiting India’s moon will pass by then.

“I had been hoping something (important) might fall on the moon for a long time. Ideally, it would hit the near side of the moon at some point where we can actually see it,” Gray said.

After initially identifying Elon Musk’s upcoming attack on SpaceX, Gray took a different look after an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory questioned his claims. Now, he is “quite thoroughly convinced” that it is a Chinese rocket component, based not only on orbital tracking from the 2014 takeoff, but also data received from the radio experiment. its short hamstring.

JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Research confirms Gray’s reassessment. A University of Arizona research team also recently identified the Chinese Long March rocket segment from light reflected off its paintwork, during telescopic observations of the monitor cylinder.

It is about 40 feet (12 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter and every two to three minutes.

Gray said SpaceX has never contacted him to challenge his original claim. Neither do the Chinese.

“It’s not SpaceX’s problem, nor is it China’s problem. No one is particularly careful about what they do with the junk in this kind of orbit,” Gray said.

According to McDowell, according to McDowell, tracking leftovers in a deep space mission like this is very difficult. The moon’s gravity can alter an object’s path during orbit, creating uncertainty. And there are no readily available databases, McDowell noted, other than those “gathered” by himself, Gray and a few others.

“We’re in an era where many countries and private companies are taking things into deep space, so it’s time to start tracking it,” McDowell said. “There’s no one right now, just a few fans in their spare time.” Space junk on a 5,800 mph collision with the moon


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