India’s lunar satellite Chandrayaan-2 could be a witness to one of the most unique events in space in recent history. The satellite may be perfectly positioned to see a man-made object crash into the surface of the Moon for the first time ever. The object in question? Elon Musk-owned company SpaceX’s rocket.
Based on data from the Project Pluto software, a repository that tracks near-Earth objects, space observers had estimated that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is on a crash course towards the Moon.
The second stage of the rocket, which was launched seven years ago as SpaceX’s first interplanetary mission to a Sun-Earth LaGrange point more than 1 million km from the Earth’s surface, is likely to impact the far side of the moon near the equatorial region around March 4.
Bill Gray, the man behind Project Pluto, wrote in his blog, "I have a fairly complete mathematical model of what the earth, moon, sun, and planets are doing and how their gravity is affecting the object. I have a rough idea of how much sunlight is pushing outward on the object, gently pushing it away from the sun."
Gray added that the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter will both be able to look for the signs of impact on the surface of the moon.
"If we can tell the LRO or Chandrayaan folks exactly where the crater is, they'll eventually pass over that spot and be able to see a very fresh impact crater and probably learn something about the geology (well, selenology) of that part of the moon. We know the mass of an empty Falcon 9 booster, and that it will hit at 2.58 km/s; the known momentum and energy of the object making the crater ought to help in calibrating the crater size vs. energy function," Gray wrote.
While SpaceX’s rocket is the one that is going to potentially impact the moon, the company has no control over the rocket. The rocket had been caught in a cislunar (Earth-Moon) orbit after it ran out of fuel to return back to Earth.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)