Imagine, if you will, a rocket crashing onto the lunar surface. The crash site is unique, unlike the others. The rocket itself is from an unknown location. It’s not The twilight zone, it is reality. Last month, NASA revealed that some kind of rocket had crashed into the Moon, with a strange impact crater.
On June 24, NASA released images of the lunar crash site, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in May. According to the space agency, anything that hit the surface of the Moon did so on March 4, after being detected on a trajectory with the Moon in late 2021. The Moon is covered in craters, several from past impacts from rocket components, but this new one is unique because it’s two separate, overlapping impact points. Everything that hit the Moon did so in a way that made an 18-meter crater overlapping a 16-meter one. As noted by NASA, this implies that each end of the rocket had a large amount of mass, rare for these types of impacts.
But no one knows where the rocket came from. NASA is able to say that the rocket was at least in space late last year, on its way to a brutal crash with the Moon. But as to who sent it or why? It’s a mystery. And outside of NASA, US Space Command, the Space Force, and even the broader Department of Defense, all are silent. There are theories but nothing is confirmed.
“Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the dual nature of the crater may indicate its identity,” NASA said in its statement.
And no, they’re probably not aliens. It’s not independence day.
Why doesn’t NASA know? It’s NASA, plus the Moon is relatively close. The United States and its allies have satellites, telescopes, and enough tracking software to keep tabs on what’s happening in space and from where. Rocket launches are traceable – each time North Korea tests a ballistic missile, the intelligence and military world fairly quickly identifies the trajectory, range and possible launch point. This particular incident looks like a job for Space Force. The service branch has guardians who monitor satellites and rockets in low orbit and monitor their trajectories. The Moon is a bit further away, but Space Force is looking to expand its patrols further. But so far, Space Force says nothing.
So why is the origin of this rocket unclear? Different branches of the military and government have always been rivals or at odds, but the rocket launches cross different areas and seem like the kind of topic that would prompt information sharing. Dozens of rocket pieces, from thrusters to other components, slammed into the lunar surface. In 2009, NASA even intentionally bombed the Moon as part of a potential water experiment on the satellite. But this case appears to be more of an accident than an experiment.
There is a probable theory though. The March 4 crash was reported at the time. The scientists’ main theory is that it was the third-stage rocket booster of China’s CHANG’E 5-T1 rocket, launched in 2014. The 18th Space Control Squadron, which handles space satellite tracking, had initially reported that the rocket booster had burned out. in place, but has since changed its status to forever in orbit. In March, the squadron issued a statement to The Verge, saying the rocket did not de-orbit but it was unclear if that was what hit the lunar surface.
Is the Chinese rocket therefore at the origin of this strange double crater? Space observers have yet to confirm or disprove the theory. Neither the 18th Space Control Squadron nor the wider Space Force has commented on the images and NASA releases at the time of publication. But if it was CHANG’E 5-T1, how it created the double crater is also unclear.
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