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Astronomers now say the rocket about to strike the Moon is just not a Falcon 9


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

NASA

About three weeks in the past Ars Technica first reported that astronomers had been monitoring the higher stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, and had been more and more assured that it will 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 Area Local weather Observatory mission, or DSCOVR, in 2015. The British tabloids, particularly, had a discipline day. Even the genteel European Area Company tut-tutted, noting that it takes care to protect sufficient gas to place spent rocket levels into secure orbits across the Solar.

Nevertheless, it seems we had been all improper. A Falcon 9 rocket is just not going to, actually, strike the Moon subsequent month. As a substitute, it is in all probability a Chinese language rocket.

Invoice Grey, who writes the extensively used Mission 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 title, WE0913A. Additional observations urged it in all probability was a human-made object, and shortly the second stage of the rocket used to launch DSCOVR grew to become a major 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 just accept the identification with the second stage as appropriate. The thing had in regards to the brightness we’d anticipate, and had confirmed up on the anticipated time and shifting in an inexpensive orbit.”

This might need been a innocent, and completely unnoticed error till astronomers discovered that this object was about to strike the Moon. Abruptly the potential for an errant Falcon 9 rocket—in any case, Elon Musk is a worldwide celeb—was huge information world wide.

It was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jon Giorgini, who realized this object was not actually 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 notably near the Moon, and that it will due to this fact be just a little unusual if the second stage strayed shut sufficient to strike it. This prompted Grey to dig again into his knowledge, and determine 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 an actual 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’d 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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