Rocket that will crash into moon was not built by SpaceX, experts now believe

U.S.

A photo taken on May 13, 2019 shows a view of the moon in Cannes, southern France. (Laurent Emmanuel/AFP)

(NEXSTAR) – It turns out a piece of a SpaceX rocket may not be hitting the moon after all.

In January, Bill Gray, the creator of software used by astronomers to track objects near the Earth, detailed findings in his blog that a Falcon 9 rocket booster was on track to hit the far side of the moon on March 4.

Over the weekend, however, Gray wrote in his blog that he misidentified the object’s origins. He explained that after speaking with Jon Giorgini of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he believes the rocket belongs to a previous Chinese lunar mission.

This piece of space junk, identified as WE0913A, went past the moon two days after the U.S. Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) was launched with a SpaceX Falcon rocket. Gray noted that he and others identified the object as the second stage of the Falcon rocket based on its brightness and that it appeared at the expected time.

Gray wrote that Giorgini pointed out that the Falcon rocket’s trajectory didn’t get close enough to the moon for his identification to fit. Instead, Gray now believes the object is the booster from a Chinese lunar mission launched in 2014.

NASA has since agreed with Gray’s assessment, saying it’s “likely” the object is the “Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 booster” launched in 2014, according to a statement obtained by CNN.

“It is not a SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage from a mission in 2015 as previously reported,” NASA said. “This update results from analysis of the object’s orbits in the 2016–2017 timeframe.”

The booster is still expected to hit the moon on March 4.

In late January, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, explained that the rogue rocket will leave a crater on the moon.

“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.”

Some rocket boosters have even been deliberately aimed at the moon to study their impact, Gray previously 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 rocket 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.

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