SpaceX rocket will crash into moon, leaving crater

Space

(NewsNation Now) — A piece of a SpaceX rocket is on course to crash into the moon — but scientists say this is no cause for concern.

Bill Gray, the creator of software used by astronomers to track objects near the Earth, first detailed these findings in his blog, where he wrote that a Falcon 9 rocket booster will hit the far side of the moon March 4.

This four-ton piece was part of the Falcon 9 rocket, which launched in Florida in 2015. The rocket has spent the past seven years hurtling through space after runnning out of fuel, rendering it unable to return to Earth’s atmosphere.

Spokespeople from SpaceX and NASA did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said it has been a “chaotic” orbit for the rocket booster, as every time it gets near the moon, the moon’s gravity tugs it into a slightly different path.

The last time the Falcon 9 booster passed the moon was in January. When it hits the moon in March, the rocket piece will be traveling 5,000 mph, McDowell said.

This does not bode well for the rocket, which McDowell said will disintegrate and leave a crater on the moon.

But the moon itself will be fine, he added.

“The moon gets hit by stuff all the time, right? That’s why it’s pockmarked with all these little craters,” McDowell said. “This is just another pinprick to the moon. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Concerns on social media that the lunar impact might somehow tweak the moon’s orbit are unfounded, he wrote in his blog post.

“The moon is fairly routinely hit with larger objects moving in the ballpark of 10-20 km/s;” Gray said. “It’s well-built to take that sort of abuse.”

Some rocket boosters have even been deliberately aimed at the moon to study their impact, Gray pointed out, referencing the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. NASA smashed that rocket into the moon to study how large a crater it would create. Because the Falcon 9 will hit the far side of the moon, in an area that’s not particularly interesting, people likely won’t even see the impact, Gray said.

“I have particularly hoped for a booster to hit on the near side, in an unlit area, near First or Last Quarter,” Gray said in the blog. “That would presumably be visible from Earth. But we’d have to get very lucky for that.”

What the Falcon 9 booster’s upcoming moon collision does illustrate is how much activity in deep space is increasing, McDowell said.

With more moon bases, 5,000 working satellites and 20,000 pieces of space junk being tracked, what McDowell said people should really be wary of is the amount of debris out there.

“The traffic is increasing like gangbusters,” McDowell said.

While it’s not a threat to people on Earth, space junk could pose a threat to weather and communication satellites.

“It’s really not that big of a problem yet. But you know … the time to fix things is when it’s not a problem,” McDowell said.

To McDowell, it’s interesting that “it’s no one’s job” to keep track of all the space junk that’s in deep space beyond geostationary orbit.

“People just … leave it out there and forget about it,” McDowell said. “We wouldn’t know about this if it weren’t for dedicated amateurs.”

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