A controversial space junk suspected to be part of a Chinese rocket that helped launch a 2014 lunar mission hit the far side of the moon, scientists said.
Space watchers said the third stage of a bus-sized Long March 3C rocket was expected to smash into the moon at about 7:25 a.m. ET on Friday, traveling at about 5,700 miles per hour.
Originally, astronomers thought the space junk was a SpaceX rocket launched seven years ago.
Astronomer Bill Gray Project Pluto Last month he corrected his initial prediction of the impending collision. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies backed up its updated presentation saying, “The object expected to impact the far side of the Moon on March 4 is likely to be the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 booster launched in 2014. “.
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But the controversy over space junk continues. Chinese officials said the rocket stage re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up. However, US space watchers are wondering if officials are confusing two different missions to the moon with similar names – the 2014 test flight and the 2020 lunar sample return mission.
Gray, the mathematician and physicist, said he was now confident it was China’s missile.
“I’ve become a little more careful with such matters,” he said. “But I really don’t see any way anything else could be.”
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics supports Gray’s revised assessment but notes: “The effect will be the same. You’ll leave another small crater on the moon.”
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Whatever the space junk, it will be weeks, possibly months, before we see any pictures of that crater due to its impact. Scientists expect the object to make a hole that ranges from 33 feet to 66 feet wide and send moon dust flying hundreds of miles across the barren surface of the moon.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will have taken pictures before the impact, and when in position, take pictures after the impact. “We’ll find the crater eventually,” Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, told USA TODAY. “Depending on its location, it could take up to 28 days.”
Contributing: Stephen J. Bird and George Petras, USA Today, and The Associated Press
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