The rocket was used in 2015 to put an Earth climate observation satellite, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) into orbit.
The astronomer who discovered the new path, Bill Gray, has since told AFP that the second unit used to propel it is floating through the universe in an orbit that mathematicians have dubbed “chaos.”
The object passed close to the moon in early January, changing its orbit, explained the head of the Pluto Project, a program that allows calculating the paths of asteroids and other objects, and is used by NASA-funded observational programs.
A week later, the expert was able to observe parts of the rocket again only to realize that it would collide with the far side of the moon on March 4.
After launching an appeal to the community of amateur astronomers for further observations, the data was confirmed.
The object will hit the surface of the Moon at a speed of more than 9000 km / h.
Due to the effect of sunlight on the hollow cylinder, the exact time and location in minutes and kilometers can still be changed, making predictions difficult.
The rocket section will be visible again in early February and recalculations will take place, but the collision is certain.
“I’ve been tracking space debris like this for about 15 years, and this is the first unintended impact on the Moon” to be detected, Gray said.
– Space debris monitoring –
According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, similar effects may have occurred in the past without our knowledge.
“There are at least 50 objects that were in deep space in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and were simply left there untracked,” he told AFP.
Existing observations did not allow to find all of them. He pointed out that “it is possible that some have hit the moon by mistake.”
The fall of the roughly four-ton part of the missile would not be visible from the ground when it occurred.
It is expected to form a crater that scientists can later observe, notably by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), or by the Indian Space Agency’s Chandrayaan-2, shedding new light on lunar geology.
In the past, spacecraft were deliberately launched to smash into the moon for scientific purposes.
In 2009, NASA launched a second rocket module with the goal of reaching an area near the south pole of a natural satellite to study the presence of water.
But most SpaceX rockets separate from the second unit at a shorter distance, which usually allows the division to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere to disintegrate over the ocean.
But for Bill Gray, unplanned lunar effects could multiply in the future, especially given the things US and Chinese lunar exploration programs will leave in their way.
The United States plans to build a station that orbits the moon.
These events “will start to cause problems when there is more traffic,” Jonathan McDowell noted. Today, the expert emphasized that “no one is doing the work of tracing the trajectory of the debris we leave in deep space.” “It’s time to start organizing this.”
As of the date this note was published, SpaceX had not responded to AFP’s requests for comment.
Currently, Elon Musk is developing the module that NASA will use to return American astronauts to the Moon in 2025, according to the most optimistic forecast.
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