A spent rocket will crash into the moon, scientists are closely monitoring the situation

(ORDO NEWS) — On March 4, 2022, a single spent launch vehicle will crash into the surface of the Moon at a speed of almost 9656 km/h.

Once the dust has settled, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will move into position to get a glimpse of the smoldering crater and hopefully shed some light on the puzzling physics of planetary collisions.

As a lunar planetary scientist, I see this unplanned collision as an exciting opportunity. The moon has witnessed the history of the solar system, its cratered surface has recorded countless collisions over the past 4 billion years.

However, scientists rarely see the projectiles – usually asteroids or comets – that form these craters. Without knowing the specifics of what formed the crater, scientists can learn little by studying it.

The upcoming rocket collision will be a successful experiment that can reveal a lot about how natural collisions hit and clean planetary surfaces.

A deeper understanding of the physics of impacts will go a long way in helping researchers interpret the Moon’s barren landscape.

When will the rocket hit the moon?

There has been some controversy over the exact identification of an unmanaged object currently on a collision course with the Moon. Astronomers know that the object is an upper stage booster dropped when a satellite was launched at high altitude.

It is approximately 12 meters long and weighs almost 4500 kg.

Available evidence suggests it is likely either a SpaceX rocket launched in 2015 or a Chinese rocket launched in 2014, but both sides deny ownership.

The rocket is expected to fall on a vast plain inside the giant Hertzsprung crater, just above the horizon on the dark side of the Moon.

A moment after the rocket touches the lunar surface, within milliseconds, the back of the body will be destroyed by pieces of metal flying in all directions.

The double shock wave will go down into the loose upper layer of the Moon’s surface, called regolith. The compression of the impact would heat up the dust and rocks and create a white-hot flash that could be seen from space.

A cloud of vaporized rock and metal will expand from the point of impact as dust, and sand-sized particles will be thrown into the sky. Within minutes, the ejected material will fall back onto the surface around the smoldering crater. There will be practically nothing left of the rocket.

Observation with the help of the lunar orbiter.

Since the collision will occur on the far side of the Moon, it will be out of view of ground-based telescopes. But about two weeks after the impact, NASA’s Lunar Orbiter will begin taking pictures of the crater as it orbits over the impact zone.

Once conditions are right, the lunar orbiter’s camera will begin taking photos of the impact site at a resolution of about 1 meter per pixel. Lunar orbiters from other space agencies can also point their cameras at the crater.

We hope that the shape of the funnel and the ejected dust and rocks will show how the missile was oriented at the moment of impact.

Models suggest that the crater could be 10 to 30 meters in diameter and 6 to 10 meters deep.

The amount of heat generated on impact will also be valuable information. If observations are made quickly enough, there is a chance that the infrared instrument of the lunar orbiter will be able to detect red-hot material inside the crater.

This can be used to calculate the total heat from the impact. If the orbiter cannot acquire an image fast enough, high-resolution images can be used to estimate the amount of molten material in the crater and the debris field.

By comparing before and after images from the orbiter’s camera and the thermal sensor, scientists will look for any other subtle changes on the surface. Some of these effects can be hundreds of times the crater radius.

Why is it important.

Collisions and cratering are common in the solar system. Craters erode and fragment the planetary crust, gradually forming the loose, granular top layer characteristic of most airless worlds. However, the general physics of this process is poorly understood, despite its prevalence.

Regardless of the identity of this wayward rocket, this rare encounter will yield new information that could prove critical to the success of future missions to the Moon and beyond.

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