SpaceX will go to the moon about a month from now, much earlier than expected.
But it’s all a coincidence, and it’s going to be a bit of a mess.
SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, has been selected by NASA to deliver the spacecraft to bring its astronauts back to the surface of the moon. That is still many years away.
Instead, the 4-ton upper stage of a SpaceX rocket launched seven years ago will hit the moon on March 4, based on recent observations and calculations by amateur astronomers.
The impact is predicted at 7:25 a.m. ET, and although there is still some uncertainty about the exact time and location, the rocket shard will not miss the moon, said developer Bill Gray. Developed by Project Pluto, a suite of astronomy software is said to be used to calculate the orbits of asteroids and comets.
Mr Gray said: ‘It’s quite certain it will hit, and it will hit within minutes of it being predicted and possibly within a few kilometers.
Since the beginning of the space age, various man-made artifacts have entered the solar system, not necessarily being seen again. That includes Mr. Musk’s Tesla Roadster, sent in SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket launch in 2018 to an orbit that passes through Mars. But sometimes they come back, like in 2020 when a new mysterious object is discovered turned out to be part of a rocket launched in 1966 on the NASA Surveyors missions to the moon.
Mr. Gray has been tracking this particular SpaceX debris for years, helping to launch the Deep Space Climate Observatory for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on February 11, 2015.
That observatory, also known as DSCOVR for short, was headed to a point about a million miles from Earth where it could provide early warning of potentially destructive eruptions of particles. energy from the sun.
DSCOVR was originally called Triana, an earth observation mission championed by Al Gore when he was vice president. The spacecraft, mockingly known as GoreSat, was put into storage for many years until it was adapted for use as a solar storm warning system. Today, it regularly captures images of the entire planet Earth from space, Triana’s original purpose, including instances when the moon crossed in front of the planet.
Most of the time, Falcon 9’s upper stage The rocket was propelled back into Earth’s atmosphere after it had transferred its payload into orbit, a neat way to avoid space clutter.
But this upper stage needed all of its propellant to send DSCOVR on its way to its distant destination, and it eventually entered a very high orbit, extending around the Earth, passing through the orbit of the moon. .
That opens up the possibility of a collision someday. The motion of the Falcon 9, dead and uncontrolled, is determined primarily by the gravitational pull of the Earth, moon, and sun, and an effect of pressure from sunlight.
Debris in low Earth orbit is closely watched for endangering satellites and the International Space Station, but more distant objects like the DSCOVR rocket are mostly forgotten.
“As far as I know, I’m the only one watching these things,” Mr. Gray said.
While Many spacecraft sent to the moon have crashed therethis seems to be the first time something from Earth that isn’t aimed at the moon will get there.
On January 5, the rocket phase passed less than 6,000 miles across the moon. The moon’s gravity has rotated it in a direction that looks like it might later cross paths with the moon.
Mr. Gray issued a request for amateur astronomers to watch as the object orbited Earth last week.
One of the people who answered the call was Peter Birtwhistle, a retired information technology professional who lives about 50 miles west of London. Last Thursday, his garden-domed 16-inch telescope, dubbed the Great Shefford Observatory, pointed to the part of the sky where the rocket stage zipped past for several minutes.
Mr Birtwhistle said: ‘This thing is moving pretty fast.
The observations pinned the orbit down enough to predict an impact. Astronomers will have another chance to look at it one more time next month before the rocket region makes its final flyby of the moon. It will then enter the far side of the moon, out of sight of anyone from Earth.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will not be in a position to see the impact directly. But it will then pass by the expected impact site and photograph the newly excavated crater.
Mark Robinson, a professor of earth and space exploration at Arizona State University who takes on the role of principal investigator for the camera of the lunar reconnaissance orbiter, said he expected four tons of metal, and touching at about 5,700 miles per hour, will create a divot 10 to 20 meters wide, or up to 65 feet in diameter.
That would give scientists a look at what lies below the surface, and unlike meteor strikes, they would know the exact size and duration of the impact.
India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, also in orbit around the moon, was also able to take pictures of the impact site.
Is different spacecraft headed to the moon this year there might be a chance of spotting affected locations – if they don’t end up creating unintended craters.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/science/spacex-rocket-launch.html The part of the SpaceX rocket will crash into the moon 7 years after launch