Astronomers have finally identified the impact site of a mysterious rocket that curiously created two craters on the dark side of the moon.
The rocket part hit the moon on March 4, but astronomers only reported the discovery of the impact site last week. There is now an east crater on the moon about 18 meters (19.5 yards) in diameter superimposed on a west crater 16 meters (17.5 yards) in diameter.
According to NASA, the double crater may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end. So far, no other rocket crashes on the moon have created double craters, although Apollo SIV-B craters were larger.
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Neither NASA nor other astronomers have been able to confirm which country or which rocket the company was.
“Normally, a spent rocket has mass concentrated on the engine side; the rest of the rocket stage consists mainly of an empty fuel tank,” said Mark Robinson, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, in a NASA press release.
“As the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the dual nature of the crater may indicate its identity.”
Robinson is also the principal investigator of the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera and a new NASA lunar imaging experiment called ShadowCam.
According to the New York Times, it was speculated in January that the rocket portion was the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched in 2015 on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for its “DSCOVR” Deep Space Climate Observatory project. But that was later ruled out.
Bill Gray, the developer of the astronomical software Project Pluto, first spotted the rocket in January and tracked it as it approached the moon.
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He had stated in January, as reported by Ars Technicathat it was the Falcon 9 part, but a NASA engineer said the launch trajectory didn’t fit the rocket’s orbit.
Gray later concluded the likely candidate was a Long March 3C rocket launched from China in 2014.
But the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in a statement on February 21 that “the upper stage of the rocket related to the Chang’e-5 mission entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned completely”.
Gray disagrees with China’s assessment and thinks it “mixed up two different, but eponymous, lunar missions”.
He also argues that an official agency such as the US Space Force, or possibly an international agency, should track space debris in deep space, not just objects like lower orbit asteroids.
“Many more spacecraft are now going into high orbits, and some of them will be taking crews to the moon. Such clutter will no longer be just an annoyance to a small group of astronomers,” Gray wrote on his Project Pluto blog†