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Scientists are excited for a rocket to hit the Moon

Scientists are preparing to study the aftermath of a rogue rocket segment expected to strike the far side of the Moon Friday

Jon Kelvey
Thursday 03 March 2022 22:37 GMT
A view of the waxing crescent Moon
A view of the waxing crescent Moon (Nasa. )

Scientists are preparing to study the aftermath of a collision between a defunct rocket and the Moon around noon GMT Friday.

“A Rocket Is Going To Crash Into the Moon Friday,” Nasa planetary scientist Noah Petro posted on Twitter. “NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Will Get an Up-Close View of the Smoldering Crater.”

Dr Petro is the project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which has been in orbit around and studying the Moon since 2009.

The orbiter won’t be positioned to capture the segment of old rocket as it slams into the Hertzsprung crater on far side of the Moon at more than 9,600 kilometers per hour, but it will be able to study the new crater the impact creates after the fact. If the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter can study the impact site fast enough, it might even capture images of still hot material in the bottom of the crater.

In an article published in SciTechDaily, University of Colorado planetary scientist Paul Hayne explained why scientists are excited about that prospect.

“Impacts and crater formation are a pervasive phenomenon in the solar system. Craters shatter and fragment planetary crusts, gradually forming the loose, granular top layer common on most airless worlds,” Dr Hayne wrote. “However, the overall physics of this process are poorly understood despite how common it is.”

Knowing when an impact will occur, even if it cannot be captured in real time, could help scientists better understand impact physics, and tell them more about things like water ice deep in the Moon’s regolith.

Aside from the lunar science to be learned, there’s still a question about just what it is that’s about to hit Earth’s natural satellite.

Astronomers initially identified the rocket segment as a piece of a SpaceX rocket booster launched in 2015. But they may have been mistaken, and the astronomy community now argues that the doomed rocket segment is part of a Chinese Long March 3C rocket launched in 2014.

Both China and SpaceX deny ownership of the rogue rocket segment.

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