Space | New study confirms China’s rocket as culprit in mysterious Moon crash
A celestial spectacle unfolded as a rocket collided with the far side of the moon, creating a peculiar double craterspanning approximately 95 feet (29 meters) in width.The incident was anticipated by astronomers who had diligently tracked the erratic trajectory of the rogue rocket for weeks, accurately predicting the precise location and time of impact.
The primary mystery revolved around the identity of the impactor, designated WE0913A by astronomers. Initial observations hinted at the possibility of it being the upper stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, responsible for launching the DSCOVR satellite in February 2015. However, subsequent investigations led astronomers to identify a different culprit: the third and uppermost stage of China’s Long March 3C rocket, which propelled the uncrewed Chang’e 5-T1 mission around the moon in October 2014.
Confirming their earlier conclusion, a team of researchers based at the University of Arizona (UA) has presented a trajectory and spectroscopic analysis in a study led by Tanner Campbell, a doctoral student in UA’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. The study, published on Thursday (Nov. 16), leaves no room for doubt that WE0913A is indeed the Long March 3C rocket body (R/B) from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission.
Despite this confirmation, China has disputed the findings, asserting that the Long March 3C’s upper stage burned up in Earth‘s atmosphere shortly after the launch of Chang’e 5-T1. This contradicts the statement from the U.S. Space Command, which refuted the claim last year, asserting that the object never reentered Earth’s atmosphere.
The new study not only resolves the mystery of the impactor’s identity but also provides further insights into the distinctive crater resulting from the moon crash in March 2022.
Researchers analyzed WE0913A’s light curve, comparing it with thousands of hypothetical space objects generated through computer simulations. The findings revealed unique characteristics, suggesting the object behaved like a stable, tumbling dumbbell. This behavior is attributed to considerable mass at each end, primarily the two engines on the upper stage, weighing a combined 2,400 pounds (1,090 kilograms) without fuel.
Tanner Campbell, the lead researcher, remarked, “This is the first time we see a double crater in a moon impact,” highlighting the equal size of the craters resulting from the stable tumbling of the rocket body. The mystery mass, inferred to be too large for the standard instrument deck, remains unidentified, leaving scientists to speculate about its nature and purpose.
As the scientific community unravels the mysteries of this lunar event, the confirmation of WE0913A’s origin marks a significant milestone in celestial exploration.
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