A piece of space junk that is equal to the size of a school bus from a SpaceX rocket launch in 2015 is hurtling toward the moon and is set to crash into the lunar surface of the moon on March 4, astronomers have predicted.
In 2015, The piece is part of a Falcon 9 rocket that launched from Florida. The purpose of the mission was to send the DSCOVR Space Weather Satellite into space, approximately one million miles away from earth.
But seven years later, the upper stage of the rocket booster remains to tumble through space. It was too far away from Earth and had too little fuel to return back to the earth, so instead, it’s been yanked around by the Earth and the moon’s gravitational pull in what experts say is a “chaotic” orbit.
“It’s almost like a billiard ball bouncing off of other billiard balls,” Bill Gray, an independent astronomer who first discovered that the Falcon 9 piece would hit the moon, told NPR.
In other words, the path of this piece of space junk could have gone in more different directions. Bill Gray says it could have gone into an orbit where it would have hit the Earth, or it could have even been picked up into an orbit around the sun.
But in mid-January, Bill Gray got new data that showed the rocket piece was going to crash into the moon, making it the first time, that we know of, humans having accidentally crashed something into the lunar surface.
The rocket piece that will crash into the moon is no small thing. It’s about 12 meters long and weighs four tons. It is also whizzing through space at about 5,600 miles per hour, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer with the Center for Astrophysics Harvard and Smithsonian.
The rocket piece is “going to get completely destroyed. A huge plume of moon dust is going to go up to where it hit and then settle down over a wide area of the moon,” he said.
After a day, the dust will settle and there will be a “sparkly fresh new lunar crater,” McDowell said.
In the past, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has conducted missions to crash objects into the moon on purpose. In 2009, they sent a spacecraft called LCROSS to see if water particles would come up in the impact.
Overall, this predicted impact in March will not be a significant change to the moon, but Bill Gray still believes there’s something to learn from it.
“It could be a reasonably interesting scientific discovery that we’ll be able to learn a bit about the nature of lunar impacts, how large a crater you get for a given size object and a given speed. We may also learn a certain amount about the geology of this particular part of the moon,” Gray said.