A Falcon 9 rocket is on a fatal trip to the Moon — and an Earth-based observatory just caught a sneak peek.
In 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took NASA’s DSCOVR Earth-observing mission farther out into space, past the Moon, to observe our home planet’s weather and climate, and the interactions between our atmosphere and outer space. But that trajectory left the second stage of the vehicle in an unusual orbit that brought it in potential contact with the Moon — recent simulations place it as bracing for impact on March 4.
Unfortunately, by that point we won’t be able to see it. At the time of the impact, it will be out of range of any lunar observing satellite. In fact, February 7 and 8 will be the last days to glimpse the rocket before its impact. The Virtual Telescope Project uses a robotic PlaneWave to track celestial events and near-Earth objects. In preparation for a livestream today and tomorrow, the project released a GIF of the rocket stage as it creeps toward its inevitable fate.
This isn’t the first artificial object to hit the Moon. Seismometers have recorded several Apollo-related rocket parts making contact with the Moon’s surface. In addition, NASA intentionally sent its Lunar Prospector into the Moon’s south pole in 1999 and followed it up with the LCROSS collision in 2009, all to determine if there’s water on the Moon. (There is.) And in 2019, a private Moon lander failed to stick its landing, instead crashing into the surface of the Moon with tardigrades on board. This, therefore, makes the Moon a tardigrade world now.
So how will the Moon fair? Perfectly fine. The moonquakes detected by Apollo equipment through 1977 registered the collisions but certainly didn’t find that the Moon — a fairly large natural satellite all told — was any worse for the wear. But it could present scientists with an opportunity to study crater formation by comparing images before and after the crash of the second stage.
And while scientists won’t be able to see the strike as it happens, it will still provide them an interesting opportunity to study its after effects, as well as the potential for what happens when a space rocket comes back down to the Moon, which could benefit future Moon explorers.
But for anyone hoping to blow up the Moon and make Moonfall a reality, you’ll have to get a (much) bigger rocket.