Rocket to smash into moon today at 5,800mph and create giant crater, scientists say

Astronomers have announced that a three-tonne rocket part is going to crash into the moon this afternoon (March 4).

The space debris is expected to collide into the far side of the moon at approximately 5,800mph which will likely create a crater between 33ft and 66ft wide – enough to fit two double-decker buses.

The impact will not be visible from the earth and could in fact take months to confirm with satellite images.

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Space debris is a large concern for the space community because of the possibility that it could collide with a satellite and wipe out valuable services for people such as mobile phones and online banking.

But experts are not too worried about the rocket part and astronomer Billy Gray, who first identified the collision course, has said the moons is used to much more severe batterings.

Writing on his blog Project Pluto, Gray said: “Keep in mind that this is a roughly four-ton object that will hit at 2.58 km/s.

“The moon is fairly routinely hit with larger objects moving in the ballpark of 10-20 km/s hence the craters. It’s well-built to take that sort of abuse.”

Jacob Geer, head of space surveillance and tracking at the UK Space Agency, said: “Although this particular piece of space junk isn’t likely to cause any significant damage, we are concerned about the growing amount of debris in orbit above the Earth.

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“This debris could collide at any time with the satellites we depend upon every day for navigation, banking and communications.

“That’s why the UK is taking action, by funding new technology to track or even remove debris from space and working with international partners, including the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to lead efforts to promote space sustainability.”

According to the European Space Agency, there is around 9,200 tonnes of space debris, with 34,000 objects greater than 10cm in size and 128 million objects measuring from 1mm to 1cm.

It estimates there have been more than 560 break-ups, explosions, collisions or non-typical events resulting in fragmentation. While rocket launches have placed about 10,680 satellites in Earth’s orbit since 1957, around 6,250 of these remain in space, but only 3,700 are still functioning.

Initially, astronomers thought the rocket part had been launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX program after the collision course was identified by Mr Gray in January.

But following further analysis, a month later he suggested the object was not actually a SpaceX Falcon rocket upper stage from a 2015 launch, but was likely to be a Chinese rocket launched in 2014 as part of the Chang’e 5-T1 mission. China denies this claim.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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