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An out-of-control rocket stage has crashed into the far side of the moon after floating around in space for at least seven years.
A new crater is expected to have been carved out in the moon as a result of the impact by the object, which has been dubbed WE0913A.
Astronomers anticipated the object would strike the moon shortly after midday GMT, though its trajectory for the far-side of the moon means it is out of range of ground telescopes and out of immediate view of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), making it tough to confirm exactly when it struck.
The putative CZ-3C Y12 rocket stage is now well within the lunar gravitational sphere, 32000 km above the surface and falling at 1.2 km/s - a speed that will increase to 2.6 km/s by the time of impact in crater Hertzprung at 1225 UTC today.— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 4, 2022
Researchers believe the object hit the 350-mile-wide Hertzsprung crater, with astronomer Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, saying the strike is 'not a big deal at the current level of occupation of the moon, which is currently population: robots, a couple of dozen; humans, zero'.
As cited by the National Geographic, he added: 'And maybe alien mutants grown from the human poop left there. There’s not much for it to hit.'
The origins of the rocket are currently disputed and are unlikely to be confirmed unless better orbital tracking data can be found to allow astronomers to trace the rocket stage's path through space.
There are, however, theories about where the rocket came from, with researchers previously speculating that Elon Musk's SpaceX might be responsible before moving on to China as a potential culprit.
The impact of the rocket has been a long time coming, having been tracked on and off since it was first spotted in 2015, and in January, astronomer Bill Gray was alerted to its collision with the moon when he ran a computer program that plotted its trajectory, National Geographic reports.
🌕 At around 12:25 UTC on March 4, a rocket booster thought to have been left over from a 2014 mission will strike the far side of the Moon.— timeanddate.com (@timeanddate) March 3, 2022
🌕 The inevitability of the impact was noticed earlier this year by astronomer Bill Gray.https://t.co/DQ7uDNpeel⁰
📷: NASA/LRO pic.twitter.com/f6B2BRwaBK
He was reportedly met with the sight of a blinking line which popped up on his screen, highlighted in red and reading 'IMPACT', in capital letters.
Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona, whose group’s observations helped characterised the object, said it was identified as a rocket stage due to a 'very characteristic light curve of a rocket body tumbling', saying: 'That was a giveaway.'
Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist at Flinders University, has said the crater formed by the collision will 'become part of China’s archaeological record on the moon, and we have to consider it in relation to the other Chinese sites'.
She added: 'What we’re creating here is a sort of a modern Anthropocene bombardment phase, potentially. Kind of a geological era created by human activities that will leave its marks on the surface of the moon. It’s already started.'
NASA's LRO is now set to seek out the crash site.
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