Part of one of billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets that launched seven years ago is expected to crash into the dark side of the moon in early March, new reports revealed this week.
In February 2015, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched from the company’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a mission to send a space-weather satellite into orbit.
After releasing the satellite, the rocket’s booster didn’t have sufficient fuel to return to Earth, meteorologist Eric Berger said, adding that the rocket became stuck in a “chaotic orbit” between Earth and the moon, according to ABC News on Wednesday.
Bill Gray, creator of Project Pluto, which develops software used to track asteroids, predicted the SpaceX “space junk” will impact the moon on March 4 around 7:25 a.m. ET.
“If this were a rock, I’d be 100% certain. (And I am 100% certain it will hit ‘close to’ the above point at that time.) But space junk can be a little tricky. I have a fairly complete mathematical model of what the earth, moon, sun, and planets are doing and how their gravity is affecting the object. I have a rough idea of how much sunlight is pushing outward on the object, gently pushing it away from the sun. This usually enables me to make predictions with a good bit of confidence,” Gray wrote in a blog post.
Gray added that his prediction “may be wrong by a few kilometers and second [sic] from the predicted time,” but said additional observations in early February “will bring the uncertainty down greatly.”
Addressing safety concerns, Gray said this particular event should raise “zero concern.”
“I gather there have been some concerns on social media (which, thank the Deity, I’m not on) that the lunar impact might somehow tweak the moon’s orbit. Keep in mind that this is a roughly four-ton object that will hit at 2.58 km/s. The moon is fairly routinely hit with larger objects moving in the ballpark of 10-20 km/s; hence, the craters,” he wrote. “It’s well-built to take that sort of abuse.”
USA Today reported that scientists will not be able to observe the impact in real-time because it is likely to occur on the far side of the moon. However, subsequent investigations could provide new data.
“This is a rare occurrence, but we have intentionally impacted the moon with rocket upper stages in the past with Apollo missions and with the NASA LCROSS mission, and with various spacecraft,” said Bruce Betts, chief scientist at The Planetary Society and manager of its LightSail Program. “To my knowledge, this is the first accidental impact.”