SpaceX rocket boosters on a collision course with the moon – National
A runaway booster from a SpaceX rocket has been drifting through space for seven years, and astronomers say it is now on a collision course with the moon.
The booster was originally launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in February 2015 as part of the Falcon 9 interplanetary mission.
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The booster, also known as the second stage, was left derelict and in a shaky orbit after propelling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory far into space to monitor space weather.
Here it was left in a sort of purgatory, too far from Earth to fall back down but not far enough to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth-Moon system.
Bill Gray of space blog projectpluto.com was the first to report the impending crash, saying he believes it will be “the first unintentional case” of space debris colliding with the moon.
Gray and other space observers believe the roughly four-ton booster will hit the far side of the moon near the equator on March 4 at 1.6 miles per second.
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Unlike Earth, the moon doesn’t have a thick atmosphere to break up debris, so the booster is expected to hit the surface, adding another mark to the moon’s already heavily cratered crust.
Astronomers, including Harvard University’s Jonathan McDowell, say there’s nothing to worry about — this won’t destroy the moon or do any really big damage.
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Even so, it’s difficult to predict exactly what will happen and where the booster will hit, since there are many external factors such as sunlight “pushing” on the rocket and “ambiguities in measuring the rotation periods” that determine its orbit, according to Gray can easily change.
Since the booster looks set to hit the far side of the moon, it will most likely not be visible to the naked eye (or with a telescope) from Earth. Additionally, the collision is expected to occur a few days after the new moon, meaning most of the moon won’t be visible anyway.
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Interestingly, while this is the first case of space debris hitting the moon, it is not the first time a man-made device has collided with it; In 2009, NASA — intentionally — launched a rocket to the moon to see what would form on impact.
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission and the collision, which was not visible from Earth, helped confirm that there is water on the moon.
Many space experts and enthusiasts are excited about the upcoming crash, as it could also inadvertently reveal more information about our satellite neighbor.
As of this writing, SpaceX and NASA have not publicly commented on the impending collision.
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