November 17th 2023.
It's been a few years since a mysterious rocket slammed into the far side of the Moon in March 2015, leaving a bizarre double crater almost 30 metres wide. For weeks astronomers had been tracking the rocket, with speculation that it could have been an upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Now, a new study has concluded that the rocket belonged to China, a claim that the country has denied. The team of researchers from the University of Arizona, led by PhD student Tanner Campbell, analysed the trajectory and light emissions using ground-based telescopes to rule out the Falcon 9, and confirmed it was the remains of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission.
The spacecraft had been making lonely flybys of the Earth and the Moon since October 2014, when it was launched. In February 2021, it was discovered that the object would impact the Moon in 2022 March. Despite the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson saying that the upper stage of the Chang’e-5 mission rocket had burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere, US Space Command later said the object never re-entered.
The impact left a rare double crater, which doesn't fit with the published specifications of the rocket. Most impact craters are round if the object comes straight down, or oblong if it strikes at an angle. The team said the weird impact crater suggests the rocket was actually a dumbbell shape, with a counterweight opposite the rocket’s engines – but they don’t know what.
The mystery of the double crater may never be solved. But it's an intriguing reminder of the many wonders that can be found in the depths of space.
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