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Astronomers now say the rocket about to strike the Moon shouldn’t be a Falcon 9

The Moon is safe from Falcon 9 rockets.
Enlarge / The Moon is secure from Falcon 9 rockets.


About three weeks in the past Ars Technica first reported that astronomers have been monitoring the higher stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, and have been more and more assured that it could strike the Moon on March 4.

This story set off a firestorm of media exercise. A lot of this protection criticized SpaceX for failing to correctly get rid of the second stage of its Falcon 9 rocket after the launch of NOAA’s Deep House Local weather Observatory mission, or DSCOVR, in 2015. The British tabloids, specifically, had a discipline day. Even the genteel European House Company tut-tutted, noting that it takes care to protect sufficient gas to place spent rocket phases into steady orbits across the Solar.

Nonetheless, it seems we have been all flawed. A Falcon 9 rocket shouldn’t be going to, the truth is, strike the Moon subsequent month. As an alternative, it is most likely a Chinese language rocket.

Invoice Grey, who writes the broadly used Venture Pluto software program to trace near-Earth objects and was the unique supply for the Falcon 9 hitting the Moon story, acknowledged the error on his web site Saturday. He defined that, again in 2015, he and different observers discovered an unidentified object within the sky and gave it a short lived identify, WE0913A. Additional observations instructed it most likely was a human-made object, and shortly the second stage of the rocket used to launch DSCOVR grew to become a first-rate candidate.

“I believed it was both DSCOVR or some little bit of {hardware} related to it,” Grey wrote Saturday. “Additional knowledge confirmed that sure, WE0913A had gone previous the moon two days after DSCOVR’s launch, and I and others got here to simply accept the identification with the second stage as appropriate. The item had in regards to the brightness we might count on, and had confirmed up on the anticipated time and transferring in an affordable orbit.”

This might need been a innocent, and completely unnoticed error till astronomers discovered that this object was about to strike the Moon. Immediately the potential for an errant Falcon 9 rocket—in spite of everything, Elon Musk is a worldwide superstar—was large information around the globe.

It was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jon Giorgini, who realized this object was not the truth is the higher stage of a Falcon 9 rocket. He wrote to Grey on Saturday morning explaining that the DSCOVR spacecraft’s trajectory didn’t go significantly near the Moon, and that it could due to this fact be a bit unusual if the second stage strayed shut sufficient to strike it. This prompted Grey to dig again into his knowledge, and establish different potential candidates.

He quickly discovered one—the Chinese language Chang’e 5-T1 mission launched in October 2014 on a Lengthy March 3C rocket. This lunar mission despatched a small spacecraft to the Moon as a precursor check for an eventual lunar pattern return mission. The launch time and lunar trajectory are nearly a precise match for the orbit of the item that can hit the Moon in March.

“In a way, this stays ‘circumstantial’ proof,” Grey wrote. “However I might regard it as pretty convincing proof. So I’m persuaded that the item about to hit the moon on 2022 Mar 4 at 12:25 UTC is definitely the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket stage.”



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