A piece of space junk from a Chinese rocket launch in 2014 is hurtling toward the moon, and is set to crash into the lunar surface on March 4, astronomers have predicted. This piece of debris was originally thought to be from SpaceX, but recent studies by astronomers have revealed that it’s a rocket of Chinese origin.
What is this space junk hitting the Moon?
The piece was assumed to be part of a Falcon 9 rocket that launched from Florida in 2015 with the objective of sending a Weather Satellite into orbit, around one million miles away from Earth, but seven years later, the rocket booster’s upper stage was still falling through space. It was too far away from Earth and had too little fuel to return, so it’s been pulled about by the gravitational pull of the Earth and the moon in a “chaotic” orbit, according to specialists.
On Saturday, independent astronomer Bill Gray, who initially predicted that this piece of trash will collide with the moon, updated his website “Project Pluto” with a correction. He began following this specific piece of trash in March 2015, about a month after SpaceX launched their Falcon 9 rocket. He claims he and others recognised it as the rocket’s second stage at the time.
Gray believes the rocket component is from the Chinese National Space Administration’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which launched in October 2014. (More on the Chang’e missions and China’s Lunar Mission here.)According to the new information, we may be 90% certain it’s a Chinese rocket component, but not 100% certain.
This new data that showed the rocket piece is going to crash into the moon, making it the first time — that we know of — humans have accidentally crashed something into the lunar surface.
What will be the impact of the debris crash?
The rocket component that will collide with the moon is not insignificant. It measures around 12 metres in length, or about the same length as a school bus, and weighs four tonnes. It’s also travelling at a speed of around 5,600 miles per hour into space.
According to scientists, the debris will be entirely destroyed, and a massive cloud of moon dust will rise from the impact point and settle over a large region of the moon. The dust will settle in approximately a day, and a new lunar crater will emerge. Overall, the expected impact in March will have little effect on the moon, but there may be some lessons to be learned.
Adverse impact of increasing space junk
Due to the increasing potential of collision with and damage to functional satellites, the building of space trash poses a particularly catastrophic threat to humanity’s future in space exploration. It may potentially have negative consequences for the Earth’s ecosystem.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Space Surveillance Networks are tracking roughly 29,210 pieces of debris on a daily basis as of August 2021. However, statistically, the figures are likely to be far higher. Thousands of space debris particles can be created by a single collision. The amount of satellite launches per year all over the globe has risen at an alarming rate, China leading the pack. Last year in 2021, China made 55 space launches, the maximum no. of launches in a single year by any country. (More on China’s satellite launches here.)
The issue isn’t limited to the dangers that space travel poses. A part of the space trash in low Earth orbit will gradually lose height and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere; nevertheless, heavier debris may sometimes collide with Earth, causing environmental damage. The Kessler Syndrome is a phenomenon in which the amount of junk in orbit around Earth reaches a point where it just creates more and more space debris, causing big problems for satellites, astronauts and mission planners. If nothing concrete is done to remove the space junk being accumulated in our low earth orbit, it’ll soon be too late to try and various disasters would be just waiting to happen.