Space is inconceivably large. As humans, we literally cannot fathom its limitless expanse. Without gravity, anything set loose among the stars simply floats aimlessly through the endless vacuum. Eventually, however, it will make contact with something else, whether it be a planet, a moon, or a black hole. It might take years, even decades, but a collision is inevitable.
Years ago, a piece of a rocket loosed from the main spacecraft. Since then, it’s been careening through space, reaching unbelievable speeds. Today, however, the hunk of metal finally made contact with another space object. Specifically, the moon. A little before 7:30 ET this morning, the rocket part crashed into the lunar surface at around 5,500 miles per hour.
Sadly, the collision occurred on the far side of the moon, unseen by anyone. Bill Gray, an independent researcher of orbital dynamics, gave space enthusiasts an idea of what the crash would have looked like, had it been visible. “If it were observable — which, sadly, it won’t be — you would see a big flash, and dust and disintegrated rocket bits and pebbles and boulders thrown out, some of it for hundreds of kilometers.” Gray was the first to spot the rocket booster and chart its trajectory.
If you’re disappointed by the lack of visuals, we have more bad news. NASA was unable to snap photos of the event, as its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter wasn’t in a position to observe the impact in real-time. That said, NASA has reported that they should still get valuable research material from the crash.
In an emailed statement, NASA officials said, “Following the impact, the mission can use its cameras to identify the impact site, comparing older images to images taken after the impact. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months.”
Scientists Unsure of Origin of Rocket Part Approaching the Moon
You would think that NASA keeps a close eye on parts escaped from spacecraft…but you’d be wrong. In truth, NASA is unsure of the origin of the rocket booster that collided with the moon. At first, they thought it had fallen from the SpaceX Falcon rocket stage from the US Deep Space Climate Observatory. However, that assumption turned out to be false.
NASA officials now think that the part came from a 2014 Chinese lunar mission, but China disagrees. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied responsibility for the booster, saying it did not come from their Chang’e-5 moon mission. They insist that the rocket burned up on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.
Surprisingly, there is no space agency responsible for tracking space debris, and none take the initiative to do so. This rocket part’s collision with the moon serves as a reminder that deep-space junk should be monitored, not ignored. After all, there are at least 26,000 pieces of space garbage orbiting the Earth large enough to destroy a satellite. Not to mention the more than 100 million pieces capable of puncturing a spacesuit.