part of a jettisoned rocket will hit the Moon this week.

View of Moon limb with Earth rising on the horizon. Footprints as an evidence of people being there or great forgery. Collage. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. /urls:

The rock­et boost­er can be seen track­ing across the sky from right to left
An aban­doned part of a rock­et is hours away from crash­ing into the Moon, say sci­en­tists who first pre­dict­ed the col­li­sion in January.

The three-ton rock­et part, hurtling through space at 5,800 mph, is expect­ed to strike at 12:25 GMT Friday.

Astronomers ini­tial­ly thought the rock­et part was launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX pro­gram, then said it was Chi­nese, which Chi­na denies.

Sci­en­tists hope to study the 10–20 m wide crater and the plumes of lunar dust cre­at­ed dur­ing the impact.

The rock­et part was first seen from Earth in March 2015. A Nasa-fund­ed space sur­vey in Ari­zona spot­ted it, but quick­ly lost inter­est when it was shown that the object was not an asteroid.

The rock­et part is what is known as space junk — mate­r­i­al dis­card­ed from mis­sions or satel­lites with­out enough fuel or ener­gy to return to Earth. Some parts are clos­er to us, just above Earth, but oth­ers, like this boost­er, are thou­sands of miles away in high orbit, far from Earth­’s atmosphere.

The Euro­pean Space Agency esti­mates that there are now 36,500 pieces of space debris larg­er than 10 cm.

No space pro­gram or uni­ver­si­ty offi­cial­ly tracks deep space debris. Space mon­i­tor­ing is expen­sive and the risk to humans from high orbit debris is low.

Thus, it falls to a tiny hand­ful of vol­un­teer astronomers who spend their free time mak­ing cal­cu­la­tions and esti­mat­ing orbits. They send emails and alerts back and forth, ask­ing who­ev­er is in the best spot on the plan­et to spot an object in space.

His tele­scope picked up a tiny point of light mov­ing across the sky. Cal­cu­la­tions sug­gest­ed it was part of a rock­et, he told BBC News.

Space debris falls and dis­ap­pears, often unpre­dictably. For sev­en years, he bare­ly saw the rock­et — until in Jan­u­ary, it reappeared.

“I took some pic­tures when it passed near Earth,” he explained.

He sent his pho­tos to astronomer and data sci­en­tist Bill Gray on the U.S. East Coast. It was the expert who then iden­ti­fied it as a SpaceX boost­er head­ing to the Moon.

The news that an aban­doned part of one of bil­lion­aire Musk’s space mis­sions was going to hit the Moon made glob­al headlines.

But track­ing space debris is often “detec­tive work,” Gray says. The rock­et’s insignia can’t be seen — astronomers must piece togeth­er its iden­ti­ty by track­ing its route back­wards through space. They then match its orbit to the dates and loca­tions of rock­et launch­es and trajectories.

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