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China is now likely to be to blame for a mysterious object set to crash into the moon, not SpaceX as was originally reported.
Several weeks ago, Ars Technica had reported that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that was launched in 2015 as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) Deep Space Climate Observatory mission, dubbed DSCOVR, was on a collision course with the moon after seven years drifting in space.
Amateur and professional astronomers pooled their resources to contribute to “Project Pluto” software run by Bill Gray. Gray sought the observations to confirm that the near-Earth object (NEO) tracking software had indeed located the Falcon 9 rocket and that it was expected to impact the moon on March 4th.
The initial report drew criticism to SpaceX for improper stewardship in their extra-planetary endeavors.
SpaceX is becoming the Mcdonald’s of space. You’ll literally find their discarded trash everywhere. 🤣
— Kristian Møller (@krove2) January 24, 2022
The writer of the piece, Eric Berger, took a moment to point out a tabloids propaganda before notably correcting the inaccuracies of the hit job.
For starters that’s a Crew Dragon launching on the left not a science mission; and on the right the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, which has no fuel mind you, is burning hard toward the Moon, which does not have an atmosphere but is nonetheless producing some kind of shock wave.
— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) January 26, 2022
Now, Gray has issued a correction to the original “Project Pluto” findings after receiving an email from Jon Giorgini, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Giorgini provided data from JPL’s Horizons system that showed a distinct difference in trajectory for the DSCOVR than the findings that Gray had presented. This prompted Gray to go back to the original studies that led him to believe the NEO dubbed WE0913A was the Falcon 9 rocket.
“I thought it was either DSCOVR or some bit of hardware associated with it,” Gray said of the NEO before adding, “The object had about the brightness we would expect, and had showed up at the expected time and moving in a reasonable orbit.”
After reinvestigating his initial findings, Gray found that the more likely candidate was a Long March 3C rocket used in the Chinese Chane’e 5-T1 mission that had launched prior to DSCOVR in October of 2014.
“It’s unclear when the Chang’e 5-T1 booster would have gone by the moon,” Gray said as he explained the methods he used to extrapolate evidence, “but four days after launch would be a reasonable ballpark estimate.”
“In short,” Gray concluded after detailing the calculations, “it looks exactly like a Chinese lunar mission ought to look in every particular.”
This is not the first time that a Chinese rocket caused a stir. In the last two years, a Long March 5B rocket had impacted Earth on separate occasions as Fox News reported.
The correction about the origin of the rocket did not alter the expected collision with the moon which is still anticipated to happen on March 4.
It did however solicit this humorous alteration to the original tabloid cover that Berger had shared.
There, fixed it pic.twitter.com/GFWhsK4uAe
— Tyler Friesen (@the_tylerf) February 13, 2022
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