(NEW YORK) — A segment of a SpaceX rocket launched seven years ago is currently about to crash into the moon.
The booster was part of the Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from SpaceX Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in February 2015 as part of a mission to send a space weather satellite to more than one million kilometers from Earth.
However, after a long burn to release the satellite at a specific position in space, the booster didn’t have enough fuel to return to Earth’s atmosphere, meteorologist Eric Berger explained in Ars Technica.
Moreover, its orbit was not high enough to escape the gravitational pull between the Earth and the Moon, leaving the thruster in a “chaotic orbit”.
Bill Gray, creator of Project Pluto, which provides astronomical software that tracks near-Earth objects to amateur and professional astronomers, wrote in a blog post that he calculated the impact will likely occur on the other side of the moon on March 4 around 7:25 a.m. am ET.
“It’s been up there — just an inert piece of space junk — for seven years,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told ABC News. “Because of its orbit, it keeps getting a bit closer to the moon and it changes its orbit unpredictably, and so the moon keeps pulling on it and changing its orbit.”
He explained that the “last tug” the thruster received from the moon in January put it on a trajectory where it will return to near Earth in early February, go past the moon in late February, then begin to fall back. towards her at the beginning of March. , causing the accident.
It’s unclear exactly where the booster will hit as sunlight can “trigger” it to change course slightly, but the four-tonne segment will crash at 5,600 mph, likely creating a crater with a diameter of several feet wide.
However, McDowell, who publishes a regular space report, said the collision was not cause for concern.
“This is not the first time that we have launched rocket stages on the Moon,” he said. “We used to do it deliberately back in the days of the Apollo project to do science experiments to ring the moon like a bell and search for the inner structure with seismometers – a kind of artificial earthquake if you will – and it did not cause any damage to the moon.”
Additionally, in 2009, NASA’s LCROSS spacecraft deliberately crashed into the moon to collect impact data.
The impending crash should also have positive implications for science – it will provide researchers with a rare opportunity to study and observe how craters form on the moon.
“The advantage of crashing a rocket into the moon and creating an artificial crater, instead of letting nature throw a rock into the moon and make a real one, is that you know exactly what you’re throwing. on the moon, you know what it’s made of and how heavy it is,” McDowell said. “If you know that a four-ton aluminum rocket stage makes this big crater, that gives you an idea the size of a boulder that must have made that other crater.”
He added that the new crater created by the booster could uncover material and give a better idea of the composition of this part of the moon.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
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