The grave of a rocket body that hit the moon more than three months ago has been found.
Earlier this year, astronomers determined that a mysterious rocket body was on its way to crashing into the lunar surface on March 4. Their calculations suggested the impact would occur inside the Hertzsprung crater, a 354-mile-wide (570-kilometer) feature on the far side of the moon.
Their calculations were on the money, it turns out. NASA researchers Lunar reconnaissance orbiter (LRO) announced last night (June 23) that the spacecraft had spotted a new crater at Hertzsprung – almost certainly the resting place of the rogue rocket.
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In fact, LRO images show that the impact created two craters, one to the east about 59 feet (18 meters) wide superimposed on another to the west about 52 feet (16 m) wide. diameter.
“The double crater was unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at either end,” said Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) principal investigator Mark Robinson of Arizona State University. wrote in an update last night (opens in a new tab).
“Typically, a depleted rocket has mass concentrated at the end of the engine; the rest of the rocket stage consists mostly of an empty fuel tank,” he added. “Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the dual nature of the crater may help point to its identity.”
As Robinson noted, the rocket that crashes into the moon remains a mystery. According to early speculation, it was probably the upper floor of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission for NASA and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in February 2015.
But further observations and calculations changed that thinking, leading many scientists to conclude that the rocket body was probably as part of the Long March 3 booster which launched China’s Chang’e 5T1 mission around the moon in October 2014. China has denied this claim.
Rocket bodies have already crashed into the lunar surface; for example, NASA directed the third stages of Saturn V rockets to the moon several times during the Apollo program. But these were intended impacts; the March 4 event marked the first known time that a rocket body accidentally crashed into the lunar surface. (Other pieces of space hardware hit the moon unintentionally – while trying, unsuccessfully, to land.)
None of Saturn V the impacts created double craters like the one generated by the March 4 crash, Robinson wrote in last night’s update. And the Saturn V craters are all over 115ft (35m) wide, while the new twin crater is 95ft (29m) at its widest point.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).