A Rocket Booster Is About to Hit the Moon, But No One Is Sure Where It Came From

Look, it's the moon.
Look, it's the moon. / Just_Super/iStock via Getty Images

The far side of the moon is set to receive an impact next month—a spent rocket booster. But no one appears ready to take responsibility for it.

According to Reuters, the rocket booster is due to hit the moon Michael Bay-style on March 4. First spotted by astronomer Bill Gray, NASA believes it’s a byproduct of a Chinese lunar mission that began in 2014. China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission was intended to see if a capsule could re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, which was successful.

China claims the rocket burned up in the atmosphere and denies NASA’s report assigning blame. But, according to Gray and NASA, China might be confusing it for another mission, 2020’s Chang’e-5.

Earlier, independent investigators believed the booster might have come from a Falcon rocket stage owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture that launched in 2015.

The confusion over the source of the rocket booster has led some observers to call for better tracking of high-orbiting objects. Currently, emphasis is placed on low-orbiting objects because there’s more of a chance for a collision with satellites.

So is the moon going to be all right? Most likely. NASA will be able to assess any crater or other damage after impact using data from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The Orbiter won’t be able to “witness” the impact in real time but can survey the area, a process that could take weeks or months.

[h/t Reuters]