Observers have been tracking a chunk of space junk, waiting for it to strike the Moon. It should’ve hit the far side of the Moon, and hopefully, orbiters will have images of the impact site, though that might take a while.

The origins of the junk are in dispute. Some say it’s a spent booster from a Chinese rocket. Others say it’s from a SpaceX rocket. So far, nobody is claiming it.

Bill Gray was the first one to spot the object. Gray writes the Project Pluto software that tracks Near-Earth Objects (NEOs.) Initially, Gray said the object was the second stage from NASA’s DISCOVR spacecraft launched in 2015. That was a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage. Then he retracted that after talking with JPL. Now Gray says that it’s a Chang’e 5-T1 rocket booster from 2014. China denies it, which isn’t surprising.

But whatever it is, Gray said on his website, “If this were a rock, I’d be 100% certain. (And I am 100% certain it will hit close to the above point at that time.) But space junk can be a little tricky.”

Bill Gray from Project Pluto calculated that the space junk will hit at or near the green x in this image. Hertzsprung crater is an enormous impact crater on the lunar far side, and it's about 570 km (350 miles) in diameter. Image Credit: Bill Gray/Project Pluto.
Bill Gray from Project Pluto calculated that the space junk would hit at or near the green x in this image. Hertzsprung crater is an enormous impact crater on the lunar far side, and it’s about 570 km (350 miles) in diameter. Image Credit: Bill Gray/Project Pluto.

The hunk of junk has been travelling through space for seven years and impacted the Moon at about 9300 kph (5800 mph.) It should’ve struck the Moon on March 4th, and it should’ve left a crater about 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter. No observers, human or technological, were in a position to watch the impact.

But NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will try to find it. That could take weeks or even months, though.

“NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will use its cameras to attempt to identify the impact site and determine any potential changes to the lunar environment resulting from this object’s impact,” an agency spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. “The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months.”

NASA’s LRO carries a suite of scientific instruments, including a camera system called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). LROC captures high-resolution images of the lunar surface. It’s spotted equipment left behind by the Apollo missions, so it should be able to find the impact site and what’s left of the space junk. (Moon junk?)

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of the Apollo 15 landing site, including some of the debris left behind. Hopefully, it'll have no problem finding the space junk impact site from March 2022. PSE is the Passive Seismometer Experiment. LRRR is the Lunar Ranging Retroreflector. They were both parts of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP.) Image Credit: NASA/ASU/LRO
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of the Apollo 15 landing site, including some of the debris left behind. Hopefully, it’ll have no problem finding the space junk impact site from March 2022. PSE is the Passive Seismometer Experiment. LRRR is the Lunar Ranging Retroreflector. They were both parts of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP.) Image Credit: NASA/ASU/LRO

This is more than just a tale of a wayward piece of space debris with unacknowledged origins; there’s some science involved.

There’s a lot that scientists don’t know about impact craters. Impact craters are everywhere,
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