(ORDO NEWS) — The appearance of a new impact crater on the Moon can be predicted infrequently. But as we recently learned, it will happen on March 4th when an abandoned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket crashes into it.
But the spent upper stage of the rocket had insufficient speed to enter an independent orbit around the Sun and was thrown without the possibility of returning to the Earth’s atmosphere. This is considered normal practice, as it allows the stages to burn up on re-entry, thereby reducing the near-Earth space clutter caused by hazardous debris.
Thus, since February 2015, the abandoned upper stage, 14 meters long and weighing almost four tons, has been moving in a wide orbit around the Earth. Its exact movements were difficult to predict because they were influenced by lunar, solar and terrestrial gravity.
But recently, scientists were able to calculate that the old rocket will hit the moon on March 4 at a speed of about 2.6 kilometers per second. The impact will create a crater about 19 meters in diameter on the surface of the Moon – a prospect that caused a storm of indignation from people shocked that human negligence would disfigure the Moon in this way.
However, in this case, for a non-working rocket, it would still be a more environmentally friendly option to end up on the Moon than to scatter through the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere in the form of metal oxide particles, which occurs during combustion upon entry into the atmosphere. The moon also lacks an atmosphere to protect it from space debris, so natural impact craters are constantly accumulating on it.
So, for example, a similar 19-meter crater was recorded in March 2013, when a piece of an asteroid weighing half a ton hit the surface of the Moon, flying about ten times faster than the Falcon 9.
The upcoming collision will take place on the far side of the Moon, so it will not be possible to see it. But a spacecraft orbiting the Moon will later be able to photograph the impact crater.
But if scientists are not particularly worried about the fall as such and do not hope to learn anything new, since similar data on impact craters are already available and there are about half a billion craters with a diameter of ten or more meters on the Moon, then the issue of biological pollution is much more acute.
After all, the possibility of the moon being infected with living microbes or molecules, which in the future may be mistaken for evidence of former life on the moon, is not ruled out.
It should be noted here that most countries have signed up to planetary protection protocols that aim to minimize the risk of biological contamination from Earth to another body (as well as from another body back to Earth). Protocols exist for reasons both ethical and scientific.
The ethical argument is that it would be wrong to jeopardize any ecosystem that might exist on another body by introducing organisms from Earth capable of thriving there. The scientific argument is that we want to study and understand the natural conditions on each other’s body, so we shouldn’t risk compromising or destroying them with mindless pollution.
The biggest recent violation of COSPAR protocols occurred in 2019, when the Israeli lunar module Bereshit crashed on the moon with DNA samples and thousands of tardigrades. These are organisms half a millimeter long that can survive the vacuum of space, but not be active in it.
As for the Falcon 9, it’s still unlikely that its wreckage will end up in a niche where there is enough water to revive and activate, but, nevertheless, this is not a risk that can be taken. The Falcon 9 wasn’t sterile at launch, but it didn’t carry a biological payload either.
In addition, he spent several years in space, so by now the risk of biocontamination is vanishingly small. However, it must be emphasized that the more objects people send to the Moon, and indeed anywhere in space, the more careful you need to be and, at the same time, the more difficult it is to follow any rules.
Contact us: [email protected]