On March 4, a rocket stage is expected to crash into the surface of the Moon, at its far side. Unfortunately, NASA has indicated that this event will go unnoticed, as the crash site will be beyond the reach of terrestrial telescopes. There is the LRO orbiter or Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the Moon, but the device will not be able to capture the event live either.
NASA will not stop there, however, since the agency intends to find the crater that will be formed and observe it. Through a spokesperson, the US space agency said that the team in charge of the LRO is currently evaluating the possibility of observing the changes caused by the impact and identifying the crater.
The agency added that this is an important research opportunity. The LRO will be able to use its cameras to identify the impact site and the team will be able to compare old images with new ones. This work could last for weeks or even months.
The object that will crash
Regarding the rocket stage that will crash into the Moon, astronomers initially thought it was the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. In particular, it was believed to be the rocket that launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite in February 2015.
Later, other observations showed that the orbit ultimately did not match that of SpaceX’s rocket. According to astronomers, the most likely would be the rocket that launched the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission in 2014. This mission was a demonstration mission carried out before the Chang’e 5 mission which was able to return samples of moon rock to Earth .
Several independent observations have since suggested that the object indeed came from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, but this is not yet confirmed. China recently denied that the object came from their rocket.
A new mission for LRO
Either way, NASA’s LRO orbiter is expected to scan the impact zone for the newly formed crater. The LRO has been in orbit around the Moon since 2009 and has already been able to discover several small targets, including the landing zones of the Apollo missions. The orbiter had also discovered lost impact sites, such as the rocket stage from the Apollo 16 mission that fell on the Moon in 1972.
Even though the LRO is used to search for objects on the surface of the Moon, its main mission is to search for water and map the lunar surface in high definition. The results obtained so far by the orbiter will also be used to plan future missions of the Artemis program.