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

March 4, 2022, 12:52 pm
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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