Humanity will, unintentionally, create a new crater on the Moon on March 4th.
A piece of human-made space debris, an old rocket booster to be exact, will crash into the far side of the moon. We have intentionally impacted human-made objects into the Moon, starting from 1950’s, but this marks the first time a human-made object unintentionally lands on the Moon.
We have sent more than 12,000 satellites to orbit the Earth since 1957, while 5,100 of them are still operational, the estimation about the size of the space debris bigger than 4 inches is more than 36,000 pieces, including dead satellites, and remnants of past launces and anti-satellite missiles.
Space around the Moon seems to be much less crowded but scientists warn that it might not stay that way for a long time. Researchers from the University of Arizona, led by Vishnu Reddy, track the positions of more than 150 objects in the space around the moon. The team has analysed the object and confirmed that the way the object reflects sunlight is similar to the Chinese booster.
The booster is probably a part of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 rocket, which was launched towards the Moon in 2014 and returned to Earth successfully. The booster of the rocket orbit to one of five such gravitationally-stable points between Earth and the Sun, a Sun-Earth Lagrange point. And as lunar gravity pulls the booster, it will crash on our satellite. The impact is forecasted on 4 March at 12:25:39 UTC at a point on the lunar far side near the equator.
.The crash will not pose any immediate danger to humans or the various rovers we have been sending there. But the main concern of the event is the lunar dust to be raised and creating a bad vision for lunar missions.
“This forthcoming impact is a little beyond our usual area of interest because we are mainly focused on the debris population in highly-trafficked low-Earth orbits, up to 2000 km altitude, as well as geosynchronous orbits around 21,700 miles away,” explained Tim Flohrer of ESA’s Space Debris Office.
“Our colleagues in the ESA Planetary Defence Office peer further into space, however. They use telescopes around the globe to track Near-Earth asteroids, and sometimes observe human-made objects as well. Extending our own remit into the ‘cislunar’ space between Earth and the Moon has been discussed, due to the increasing use of the scientifically vital Sun-Earth Lagrange points in coming years” he added.