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Mystery surrounds craters caused by Moon crash

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The Moon. Photo: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University via AP

The Moon. Photo: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University via AP

The Moon. Photo: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University via AP

Nasa scientists are baffled by a mystery spacecraft that crashed into the Moon creating two large craters.

Despite being tracked since 2015, no one has claimed the rocket. It was travelling at
5.3km a second when it met the lunar surface on March 4, but new images by Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the impact was unlike anything seen before.

“Surprisingly, the crater is actually two craters, an eastern one (18m diameter) superimposed on a western one (16m diameter),” the agency said.

“The double crater was unexpected and may indicate that the body had large masses at each end. Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity.”

Amateur astrologists first pointed the finger at SpaceX, but then recalculated it was likely to be from a 2014 Chinese lunar mission (Chang’e 5-T1). China has contested this, saying that booster had “safely entered the Earth’s atmosphere and was completely incinerated”.

Bill Gray, an astronomer who created software that tracks objects in space, had to work backwards and compute an approximate orbit, because although China announces and televises its launches, it does not reveal routes.

“I’m 99.9pc sure it’s the China 5-T1,” he told the BBC. He had previously thought it was a SpaceX booster.

There are hundreds of pieces of debris on the surface of the Moon, as well as lunar landers and astronauts’ waste in ziplock bags. Rocket boosters from the Apollo missions left a number of craters on the Moon, while in 2019, Israel’s crashed Beresheet spacecraft scattered debris on the lunar surface.

At least 47 Nasa rocket bodies have created “spacecraft impacts” on the Moon, according to 2016 data from Arizona State University.  

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Japan, South Korea, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates aim to send missions to the Moon in the next year, while the US plans to land the first woman there in 2024. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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