Why was the rocket that will hit the moon confused like a Falcon 9 instead of a Chinese rocket?

14/02/2022
Credit image:: Virtual Telescope Project
Credit image:: Virtual Telescope Project

On March 4, a rocket is about to hit the Moon, but is it SpaceX or another space agency? Astronomers might be confused to say that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket might hit the moon, but in fact it could be a Chinese rocket launched in 2014. 

Bill Gray (the astronomer who discovered a rocket to hit the moon) announced on February 12 that he probably made a mistake and that it is not a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but a Chinese rocket launched almost 8 years ago. It is a well-known type of rocket: Long March 3C, which had the mission in 2014 to launch Chang'e 5-T1 into space. 

Gray also brought information along with the new announcement. The one who drew his attention to this problem was Jon Giorgini from NASA. "He [Giorgini] wrote to Gray on Saturday morning explaining that the DSCOVR spacecraft's trajectory did not go particularly close to the moon, and that it would therefore be a little strange if the second stage strayed close enough to strike it," wrote Eric Berger on Ars Technica.

However, it is the same rocket as anyone else's, so the impact will remain on the same day, March 4, 2022, around 7:25 a.m. EDT. It will most likely make a crater on the moon, but the impact will not be visible from Earth. You can read more here: https://www.bailey-universe.com/l/part-of-a-rocket-launched-7-years-ago-will-soon-hit-the-moon-can-it-make-a-crater-see-here/

"Prompted by Jon's e-mail, I dug into my e-mail archives to remind myself why I had originally identified the object as the DSCOVR stage in the first place, seven years ago. I did that digging in full confidence it would prove that the object was, in fact, the DSCOVR second stage," said Gray.

The whole discovery began from Catalina Sky Survey data. The instrument discovered an object, DSCOVR, designated WE0913A.

"Shortly thereafter, an astronomer in Brazil noted on a newsgroup that the object was orbiting the earth, not the sun, suggesting it might be a human-made object," Gray said. 

"I and others came to accept the identification with the second stage [of Falcon 9] as correct. The object had about the brightness we would expect, and had showed up at the expected time and moving in a reasonable orbit," Gray also said.

"In hindsight," Gray continued, "I should have noticed some odd things about WE0913A's orbit. Assuming no maneuvers, it would have been in a somewhat odd orbit around the earth before the lunar flyby. At its highest point, it would be near the moon's orbit; at its lowest (perigee), about a third of that distance. I'd have expected the perigee to be near the earth's surface. The perigee seemed quite high."

"I didn't have a trajectory for DSCOVR at the time, and the lunar flyby seemed quite plausible [as] spacecraft often use a lunar flyby to adjust their orbits," Gray said. But after receiving the e-mail, he searched for an object launching not too long before March 2015, in a "high orbit going past the moon".

"McDowell has sent orbital elements for an amateur radio cubesat that got a 'ride share' with the booster, and it's a very close match," Gray adding. "In a sense, this remains 'circumstantial' evidence. But I would regard it as fairly convincing evidence." (McDowell - astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics).

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 14 February 2022, at 02:59 am Los Angeles time

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