A runaway rocket chunk the size of a school bus is set to hit the moon this week.
The impending collision has sparked a war of words over who is responsible – here’s what we know so far.
When will the rocket arrive on the moon?
A launch vehicle will hit the lunar surface on March 4, astronomers say, after tumbling through space for nearly eight years.
It will be the first time an artificial object has crashed into another space body without being aimed at it.
The collision will occur on the far side of the moon as the one-ton piece of space junk is traveling at about 1.6 miles per second.
It is expected to create a debris cloud and leave a small crater in its wake, although no serious damage will occur.
The collision poses no threat to humans or other spacecraft.
The object is likely part of a rocket that carried a small Chinese spacecraft called Chang’e 5-T1 to the moon in 2014.
Who predicted the collision?
In January, space trackers calculated that a piece of man-made debris was on its way to hitting the moon.
It was first spotted by Bill Gray who writes the popular Project Pluto software to track near-Earth objects.
He reported that the junk was a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage that was launched from Florida in February 2015.
It was on a mission to deploy an Earth observation satellite called DSCOVR for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
However, Bill later retracted his claim, saying the missile part most likely belonged to China. China has since denied the allegation.
“In 2015, I (mis)identified this object as 2015-007B, the second stage of the DSCOVR spacecraft,” Gray wrote on Feb. 12.
“We now have good evidence that this is indeed 2014-065B, the booster for the Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission.”
Does the missile belong to China?
The blame game over the rogue missile part intensified last week after China said it is NOT theirs.
However, Gray still thinks it’s an old rocket piece from a 2014 lunar mission.
His claims were supported by NASA and other experts.
They believe it came from China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which was used to test technology to bring samples back from the moon.
But China has none of it.
“According to Chinese monitoring, the upper stage of the Chang’e-5 mission rocket safely fell through Earth’s atmosphere and was completely burned up,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry.
However, experts noted that China was referring to the Chang’e-5 mission, not the Chang’e 5-T1 mission of the same name – both are completely different.
Now, astronomer Gray believes the country “mixed up” the two missions.
What the confusion shows is that space junk is better tracked, he argues.
“Many more spacecraft are now in high orbit, and some of them will take crews to the moon,” Gray said.
“Such junk will no longer bother just a small group of astronomers.
“A few fairly simple steps would help quite a bit.”
Has space junk ever landed on the moon?
The rocket portion is still expected to impact the moon on March 4, where it will leave a crater about 20 meters in diameter on the surface.
Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to see the impact live, as the falling part of the rocket is expected to hit the other side of the moon – the part that faces away from Earth.
Instead, astronomers rely on images taken by satellites, including NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, to see the aftermath of the crash.
By analyzing the resulting crater, scientists hope to observe underground material ejected by the impact to shed light on the moon’s composition.
As part of its LCROSS mission, Nasa intentionally slammed a launch vehicle onto the moon in 2009, hoping to learn something from the debris left behind.
“Essentially this is a ‘free’ LCROSS … except we probably won’t see the impact,” Gray wrote in January.
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/8438574/mystery-rocket-denied-china-elon-musk-crash-2/ Mystery rocket set to ‘crash on the moon in THREE days’ as China denies it is to blame