"Mystery" space junk on track to crash into moon at 5,800 mph this week
By: April Carson
A 3-ton space rock is about to crash into the moon, a blow that would produce a crater big enough for several semi truck trailers.
The mysterious space junk was first spotted by astronomers in December of last year. It was initially thought to be an asteroid. New observations, however, suggest that it is a man-made object.
Today, the remaining rocket will smash into the far side of the moon at 5,800 mph (9,300 kph), out of view of telescopes. It's possible that weeks, if not months, will pass before researchers can confirm the impact through satellite pictures.
Experts believe that it's been careening aimlessly through space since China deployed it nearly a decade ago. However, Chinese officials are unconvinced that it is theirs.
Whether it's from a NASA probe or an asteroid, the impact is expected to create a hole 33 feet (10 meters) wide by 66 feet (20 meters) deep, depositing moon dust hundreds of kilometers away.
Space junk orbiting at a lower altitude is quite simple to follow. Objects launched deeper into space are unlikely to impact anything and, unless they're observed by a few people who enjoy detective work on the side, these far-flung parts are quickly forgotten.
The lunar litter was originally attributed to SpaceX after asteroid tracker Bill Gray discovered the collision path in January. He backpedaled a month later, stating that the "mystery" object was not a SpaceX Falcon rocket upper stage from the 2015 launch of a deep space climate observatory for NASA.
The satellite was likely the third stage of a Chinese rocket that lofted a test sample capsule to the moon and back in 2014, according to Gray. However, Chinese ministry officials claimed that the upper section had reentered Earth's atmosphere and been incinerated.
However, there were two Chinese missions with the same names — the test flight and 2020's lunar sample return mission — that appears to be being confused.
The Chinese upper stage from the 2014 lunar mission has never deorbited, according to the U.S. Space Command, which tracks lower space debris. However, it was unable to identify the source country of an object about to crash into the moon.
"It's China's rocket, and I'm confident," Gray said. "I was not so sure before."
"I've become a little more cautious of things like that," he explained. "But there's simply no other way it could be."
According to Gray's revised assessment, he believes that the total mass of Mars will decrease by 40%. "The impact will be identical," says Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomer Jonathan McDowell.
The moon already has a long list of craters, ranging from 1,600 to 2,500 kilometers in diameter. The moon is defenseless against the continual barrage of meteors and asteroids because it has little to no real atmosphere. There's no erosion without weather, so impact scars endure indefinitely.
China plans to establish a space station on the far side of the moon, but it will be beyond detection range on Friday's impact. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be out of reach. It's doubtful that India's moon-orbiting Chandrayaan-2 will be visible at that time.
"For a long time, I've wanted something (big) to hit the moon. Ideally, it would have collided with the moon's near side at some point and we could have seen it," Gray added.
Gray initially pinned the next strike on Elon Musk's SpaceX, but after an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory questioned his assertion, he took another look. He is now "very completely convinced" that it is a Chinese rocket component," based not just on orbital tracking back to its 2014 lift but also on data collected from its brief-lived ham radio research.
The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at JPL endorses Gray's reconsideration. During telescope observations of the careening cylinder, a University of Arizona group discovered the Chinese Long March rocket segment from the light reflected off its paint.
The outer shell is about 40 feet (12 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has yet to respond. According to Gray, the company never contacted him to dispute his original claim. The Chinese have likewise not responded.
It's not a China or SpaceX problem, according to Gray. "Nobody is overly concerned about the disposal of trash in this area."
Tracking debris from deep space expeditions is difficult, according to McDowell. The moon's gravity might disturb an object's trajectory during flybys, causing uncertainty. Apart from the ones " cobbled together " by himself, Gray, and a few others, there isn't a readily accessible data source, according to McDowell.
"We're now in an era where many nations and private entities are putting stuff into deep space, so it's time to start monitoring it," said McDowell. "There's no one right now; it's just a few enthusiasts who are looking at it in their free time."
NASA is aware of the space junk's impending crash, but there's not much they can do about it. "We are tracking it and know where it is relative to the moon," said a NASA spokesperson in an email to Business Insider. "There is nothing we can do to change its course or make it disappear."
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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