NASA stumped by ‘mystery rocket body’ that collided with the moon

A photograph of the moon
Photo credit Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – This March, a rocket body collided with the moon, leaving two craters. NASA scientists are still not sure exactly where it came from.

In a June 24 press release, the agency called it a “mystery rocket body,” and said it was tracking its collision course with the moon since last year. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the resulting craters.

A report from the Houston Chronicle found that “none of Earth’s space-exploring nations have claimed responsibility for the mysterious projectile.” There are dozens of state space agencies on the planet, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, and companies make rockets for commercial space exploration.

NASA explained that rockets that strike the moon almost always leave one crater, so the double crater was an “unexpected,” finding after the mystery rocket hit the Earth’s only natural satellite. “No other rocket body impacts on the Moon created double craters,” said NASA.

According to data from Arizona State University, at least 47 NASA rocket bodies had created spacecraft impacts with the moon as of 2016.

Rocket collisions with the moon usually create only one crater because the mass of spent rocket is concentrated in the motor end of the projectile, with the rest consisting of a large, empty fuel tank. For example, four Apollo rockets created single craters, each around 38 yards wide.

In contrast, the two craters created by the mystery rocket are 19.5 yards wide and 17.5 yards wide, making the combined total close to the width of the Apollo craters. The larger, eastern, crater is superimposed on the smaller, western crater. This could mean that the rocket had large masses at each end, rather than a concentration on one end.

NASA said this double crater – located near the large Hertzsprung crater – might eventually help identify where the mystery rocket came from.

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