An Out-of-Control Rocket Just Slammed Into the Moon, Astronomers Say

The crash occurred on Friday morning, according to calculations by astronomers, but Earthlings have nothing to worry about.
An Out-of-Control Rocket Just Slammed Into the Moon, Astronomers Say
Depiction of Man in the Moon with a rocket in his eye from the 1914 silent animated film A Trip to the Moon directed by George Melies. Image: Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

An out-of-control rocket stage crashed into the lunar surface on Friday morning after hurtling through space, according to calculations made by astronomers. 

The crash has been anticipated for over a month, after Bill Gray, an author of space object tracking software, sounded the alarm in a blog post. Initially, Gray suspected that the space junk originated in a 2015 SpaceX mission, but updated his assessment to conclude that it was a Chinese rocket stage. China denied the accusation, but Gray stuck to his guns and another team of researchers concurred with his findings after obtaining a spectrum reading of the object and comparing it to rockets of SpaceX and Chinese origin. According to the team, the difference came down to the type of paint used by the Chinese space agency. 


Gray wrote in his original blog post that it would be the first time that a human-made object has unintentionally hit the Moon. Previously, NASA has sent junk intentionally down to the lunar surface for scientific purposes. 

The rocket slammed into the Hertzprung crater on the dark side of the Moon, meaning there is no way to immediately observe the impact. However, scientists are certain that it occurred. 

"A reminder that there is no live tracking of the impacting rocket stage. Based on observations made weeks ago, we're confident that it will hit Hertzprung crater at 1225 UTC Mar 4, because we trust Uncle Isaac—successfully predicting the trajectory of things in space since 1687," tweeted Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics, on Friday morning. In tweets, McDowell said the rocket debris was from "the putative CZ-3C Y12 rocket stage," referring to a Chinese rocket. 

Even though we can't see the impact now, that could change. NASA told last week that it was looking into using its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to first observe any changes in the moon's gaseous exosphere and then scan the surface itself, but this could take a while. 

"This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity," a NASA spokesperson told the outlet. "Following the impact, the mission can use its cameras to identify the impact site, comparing older images to images taken after the impact. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months."

As for possible negative effects of the crash, Earthlings have absolutely nothing to worry about. Although a human-made object unintentionally hitting the lunar surface is certainly a sign o' the times, the Moon is famously pockmarked with craters for a reason: big space stuff hits its surface all the time.