SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will crash into moon on March 4

Two-panel image with a rocket launch to the left and a crescent moon to the right.
Left: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory in February 2015. Right: The moon in a waxing crescent phase, as we’ll see it in our sky on March 4, 2022, when the spent Falcon 9 upper stage crashes onto the lunar surface. The moon image is from EarthSky Community member Steve Price. Thanks, Steve! The launch image is via NASA.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 14, 2022: The object that will crash into the moon on March 4 is no longer believed to be a Falcon 9 rocket. Read more here.

On March 4, 2022, the spent upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will crash into the moon. The debris has been in space since February of 2015, when it launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory into space. The Falcon 9 made a close flyby of the moon on January 5, 2022. Data from observers helped scientists pinpoint its orbit, discovering it would hit the Hertzsprung crater on the moon’s far side on March 4 at approximately 12:25 UTC. The debris will hit at a speed of 5,800 miles an hour (9,300 km/h). The effects of the impact will be minimal, aside from a new, albeit small, crater on the moon.

This is the first known unintentional impact of space junk with the moon. However, the moon has endured a great many intentional impacts of rockets and other spacecraft.

The 2022 lunar calendars are here. Order yours before they’re gone!

SpaceX rocket debris impact site: Heavily cratered surface with name labels and x.
Bill Gray has mapped out the location where the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket body will crash into the moon’s far side. Image via Bill Gray.

How to see the SpaceX Falcon 9

On March 4, the moon will be in a waxing crescent phase. While you are welcome to gaze at the moon, you won’t see any of the action as the Falcon 9 comes crashing down. The rocket booster is very small. And, most importantly, the impact site is on the far side of the moon, the side we don’t see from Earth.

The Virtual Telescope Project will have two live feeds to show the rocket debris in real time on February 7 and February 8, 2022, at 18 UTC. This observing event is almost a month before the impact, but it should be around the last times the Falcon 9 upper stage will be visible to Earth.

For details on the live feed, visit Virtual Telescope

Not the first human spacecraft crash on the moon

Debris has been crashing into our moon since the moon and the rest of the solar system formed, billions of years ago. And we humans have intentionally crashed some of our spacecraft into the moon. During many of the Apollo missions, for example, NASA crashed the rocket booster stages (the S-IVBs) into the moon for scientific reasons. It allowed them to take seismic measurements to help them characterize the lunar interior.

Intentional crashes into the moon or other worlds in our solar system also are useful because they eliminate space debris.

If you scan this list of artificial objects on the moon, you can see that a great many of them were intentionally crashed.

Cratered surface with bright splat and rays radiating out from the center of it.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spotted this crater from the Apollo 16 booster impact on the moon. LRO spotted the impact site in 2015, while the impact itself occurred in 1972. Image via NASA.

Bottom line: Rocket debris of a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage will impact the far side of the moon on March 4, 2022. The effects will be minimal, but it’s fun to think about! And we’ve got links to live feeds in February – when the rocket upper stage will still be visible through telescopes, glinting in the sunlight – in this post.

January 28, 2022

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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