TechMoon's mystery craters: trash from Earth creates lunar chaos

Moon's mystery craters: trash from Earth creates lunar chaos

Hertzsprung Crater after the impact
Hertzsprung Crater after the impact
Images source: © NASA

3:33 PM EST, November 17, 2023

On March 4, 2022, an unexpected incident occurred on the Moon. An unidentified object collided with the lunar surface, creating a crater. Nearly a year and a half later, scientists revealed that the object originates from China - and it is trash.

Trash, it seems, is not just an earthbound problem. Our waste has reached as far as Mars in our solar system, and we could certainly use a garbage truck in Earth orbit. The occurence on the Moon was particularly notable.

Earth's trash forms a crater on the Moon

It seems that the unused space equipment has collided with the lunar sphere for the first time. And it had an impact on the Moon. An unknown rocket body struck near the Hertzsprung crater changes the lunar landscape. Instead of a single crater, there are now two intersecting ones with a combined diameter of 95 feet.

Due to the lack of an atmosphere comparable to Earth’s on the Moon, craters form easily. Rocks that merely cause meteor showers on Earth have no trouble penetrating the lunar surface. The event near the Hertzsprung crater was anticipated. Astronomers had been tracking the rogue rocket for some time and accurately predicted where it would strike.

Origins of the rocket

While the object's origin remains uncertain, the rocket was large and must have come from Earth. Several dispersed pieces in space could have matched it. One potential suspect could be the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which SpaceX launched as part of a joint mission with NASA and NOAA in February 2015.

However, subsequent observations and calculations dismissed this theory. A more likely source seems to be one of the stages of the Chinese Long March 3C rocket. It was launched in October 2014 as part of the Chang'e 5-T1 mission, an unmanned lunar orbit exploration.

China rebutted the accusations, denying responsibility for the incident. This response has led some to believe that the Chinese space program may pose a significant threat.

The unidentified origin of the object that caused extensive damage on the moon complicates future preventative measures. In light of this, establishing a permanent lunar base, a significant objective of the Artemis mission, may be untenable.

China's accountability for Moon crater

Researchers from the University of Arizona took on an independent investigation into the incident. Over a year and a half later, their findings were published in the Planetary Science Journal.

The results showed that the object responsible for the dual crater on the moon was moving and composed of materials clearly indicating its origin as part of a Chinese rocket. Among all possibilities, only the Long March 3C from the Chang'e 5-T1 mission fits the correct flight trajectory. The topography of the craters post-collision precisely matches its shape and movement speed.

While solving the mystery brings satisfaction, there is an undeniable cause for concern. China's space exploration methods can be problematic as they sometimes send equipment beyond Earth's atmospheric boundary - the Karman line - that they are either unwilling or unable to control.

The Chinese space program's unchecked exploration is akin to a reckless driver on the highway. While the recent incident resulted in further unnecessary research, it may cast a gloomy shadow on the future of space flights.

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