(CNN) — The Moon has a new double crater after the body of a rocket booster mysteriously collided with it on March 4.

New images shared by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Moon since 2009, have revealed the location of the unusual crater.

The impact created two overlapping craters, an east crater measuring 18 meters and a west crater measuring 16 meters. Together, they create a depression approximately 28 meters wide on its longest side.

A rocket body collided with the Moon on March 4, creating a double crater, as indicated by the white arrow.

Although astronomers expected the impact after discovering that the piece of the rocket was going to collide with the Moon, the double crater it created was a surprise.

Spent rockets typically have the most mass at the motor end, since the rest of the rocket is largely an empty fuel tank. But the double crater suggests that this object had large masses at both ends when it hit the Moon.

The exact origin of the rocket body, a piece of space debris that had been floating around for years, is unclear, so the double crater could help astronomers determine what it was.

The Moon lacks a protective atmosphere, so it is riddled with craters that were created through the regular collision of asteroids with its surface.

This is the first time that a piece of space debris has unintentionally collided with the lunar surface, as far as experts know. However, some craters are the result of spacecraft deliberately colliding with the Moon.

crater moon

The new crater is smaller than others and is not visible in this image, but its location is indicated by the white arrow.

For example, the four large lunar craters attributed to the Apollo 13, 14, 15, and 17 missions are much larger than each of the overlapping craters created during the March 4 impact. However, the maximum width of the new double crater is similar to that of the craters of the Apollo missions.

uncertain origin

Bill Gray, an independent researcher focused on orbital dynamics and developer of astronomical software, was the first to detect the trajectory of the booster rocket.

Gray initially identified it as the stage of the SpaceX Falcon rocket that launched the US Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, in 2015, but later said he was wrong and it was probably from a Chinese lunar mission. 2014, an assessment with which NASA agreed.

However the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the rocket was from its Chang’e-5 lunar mission, saying the rocket in question burned up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

No agency systematically tracks space debris so far from Earth, and the confusion over the origin of the rocket stage underscores the need for official agencies to keep a closer eye on deep space debris, rather than relying on the limited resources of individuals and academics.

But experts say the biggest challenge is space debris in low-Earth orbit, an area where it can collide with working satellites, create more debris and threaten human life on manned spacecraft.

There are at least 26,000 pieces of space debris in orbit around Earth that are the size of a baseball or larger and could destroy a satellite on impact; more than 500,000 marble-sized objects large enough to cause damage to spacecraft or satellites; and more than 100 million pieces the size of a grain of salt, minuscule debris that could nonetheless pierce a spacesuit, according to a NASA report published last year.



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