The object that would hit the moon in March didn’t come from a SpaceX rocket

Posted on Monday, February 14, 2022 at 8:16 pm

The announcement caused an uproar at the end of January: The second stage of a SpaceX rocket was crashing onto the lunar surface in early March after wandering in space for several years. But astronomers misidentified their target.

The piece of the rocket will actually hit the Moon on March 4, but, contrary to what has been announced, it is not a rocket from the American company, but a Chinese launcher rocket, experts now say.

Now identified: the stage of the Long March rocket that launched in 2014 for a mission called Chang’e 5-T1, as part of China’s space agency’s lunar exploration program.

The surprising announcement was made by astronomer Bill Gray, who first identified the futuristic effect, and admitted his mistake this weekend.

This “well-meaning error” underscores “the problem posed by the lack of proper tracking of these objects in deep space,” for his part, astronomer Jonathan McDowell estimated on Twitter, who is calling for more regulation of space junk.

The object in question was already misidentified several years ago when it was first discovered, said Bill Gray, the creator of the program to calculate trajectories of asteroids and other objects, which was used by NASA-funded observational programs.

“The object had the expected brightness, appeared at the expected time, and was moving in a fixed orbit,” he wrote. But “looking back, I should have noticed some strange things about the orbit,” he admitted.

He now says he is “convinced” that the object in question “is in fact the stage of the Chang’e 5-T1 missile”.

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This test mission was to prepare the subsequent Chang’e 5 mission, which returned samples from the Moon to Earth.

Clarification of this misunderstanding came through an email from a NASA employee, Bill Gray said.

And the US space agency had announced at the end of January that it would try to monitor the crater that will form as a result of the explosion of this body, thanks to its probe, which is currently in orbit around the moon, the Lunar Orbital Reconnaissance Vehicle (LRO).

NASA described the event as a “delightful research opportunity.” Studying the crater formed could actually make it possible to develop geoscience, the scientific study of the moon.

Rockets have been thrown at the Moon for scientific purposes in the past, but this is the first unintended collision ever discovered.

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