A discarded rocket that is believed to belong to China should have crashed into the moon’s far side by now, scientists say.
The three-tonne piece of space junk would have left a massive crater if it smashed into the lunar surface as expected at 12:25 GMT (07:25 ET) today.
Astronomers first thought the rocket part had been launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2015, before changing their mind and saying it was Chinese, something Beijing denies.
Scientists hope to get confirmation of the 5,800mph impact in the coming days, or weeks.
It would mark the first time that a piece of space junk has accidentally struck the lunar surface.
Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, supported Gray’s revised assessment, but added: ‘The effect will be the same. It’ll leave yet another small crater on the moon.’
The moon already bears countless craters, ranging up to 1,600 miles (2,500 kilometers).
With little to no real atmosphere, the moon is defenseless against the constant barrage of meteors and asteroids, and the occasional incoming spacecraft, including a few intentionally crashed for science’s sake.
With no weather, there’s no erosion and so impact craters last forever.
China has a lunar lander on the moon’s far side, but it will be too far away to detect Friday’s impact just north of the equator.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be out of range, while it is unlikely that India’s moon-orbiting Chandrayaan-2 will be passing by then, either.
‘I had been hoping for something (significant) to hit the moon for a long time. Ideally, it would have hit on the near side of the moon at some point where we could actually see it,’ Gray said.
After initially pinning the upcoming strike on Elon Musk´s SpaceX, Gray took another look after an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory questioned his claim.
Now, he is ‘pretty thoroughly persuaded’ it is a Chinese rocket part, based not only on orbital tracking back to its 2014 liftoff, but also data received from its short-lived ham radio experiment.