A four-ton Falcon 9 rocket launched in 2015 is heading straight for the Moon at 2.5 kilometers a second and is scheduled to strike Earth’s favorite natural satellite sometime in the next few weeks.
It seems last year’s TikTok witches attempts to curse the Moon were more effective than the media initially gave them credit for. The potential for collision was first identified by Bill Gray, who created the Project Pluto software in order to track near-Earth objects. He believes the rocket could impact near the Moon’s equator around March 4. While Gray is confidant about the date, several factors that can’t be accounted for that could still affect exactly where the rocket will crash.
The second stage rocket burned up all its fuel years ago on SpaceX’s first interplanetary mission, Ars Technica reports.
SpaceX launched its first interplanetary mission nearly seven years ago. After the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage completed a long burn to reach a transfer orbit, NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory began its journey to a Sun-Earth LaGrange point more than 1 million km from the Earth.
By that point, the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage was high enough that it did not have enough fuel to return to Earth’s atmosphere. It also lacked the energy to escape the gravity of the Earth-Moon system, so it has been following a somewhat chaotic orbit since February 2015.
While NASA intentionally crashed into the Moon in 2009 during the LCROSS mission, this Falcon 9 rocket stage is likely the first human-made hardware to make an uncontrolled and unintentional impact into the Moon’s surface. Normally, rocket stages reserve enough fuel to either launch into orbit around sun or aim for a trajectory to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
SpaceX has a bad reputation for littering the Earth with its rocket parts, mostly during failed launches. Take, for instance, last year, when Starship Serial Number 11 (SN11) blew up and scattered debris around Boca Chica, Texas and Isla Blanca, Mexico. Or when parts of a failed Falcon 9 rocket washed up in North Carolina in 2018.
While it sounds to me like we’re just littering on a whole new celestial body, scientists are quite stoked to see the results of this impact. Both NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization are planning to train their lunar satellites on the impact crater to gather information about what lies below the Moon’s dusty surface.