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Last month, an astronomer published some findings that said that an old SpaceX Falcon 9 upper-stage would slam into the Moon in March, the predictions were quickly reported by mainstream media news outlets which caused people to criticize SpaceX for the potential lunar collision. Turns out, the astronomers’ findings were inaccurate – the rocket part that could slam into the Moon does not belong to SpaceX.
Bill Gray, who writes the widely used Project Pluto software for astronomers to track near-Earth objects, was who first-reported the Falcon 9 that launched NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory mission (DSCOVR) in 2015 would slam into the Moon. He published a new post on the Project Pluto website that states he made a mistake.
Gray says that in 2015 multiple astronomers found an unidentified object in the sky and gave it the identifier ‘WE0913A’. “I thought it was either DSCOVR or some bit of hardware associated with it. Further data confirmed that yes, WE0913A had gone past the moon two days after DSCOVR’s launch, and I and others came to accept the identification with the second stage as correct. The object had about the brightness we would expect, and had showed up at the expected time and moving in a reasonable orbit,” explained Gray. He realized the mistake after NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer Jon Giorgini e-mailed him with new information stating it was not SpaceX rocket upper-stage that is heading towards the Moon. JPL has a team that tracks asteroids and near-earth objects. JPL's Horizons system provides highly-accurate data of near-Earth objects that the United States keeps track of, it showed that the Falcon 9 DSCOVR trajectory did not go close to the moon.
Gray then analyzed his old data and now believes the defunct rocket on lunar trajectory is a Chinese rocket that launched the Chang’e 5-T1 mission in October 2014 atop the Long March 3C rocket. “Back in 2015, I (mis)identified this object as 2015-007B, the second stage of the DSCOVR spacecraft. We now have good evidence that it is actually 2014-065B, the booster for the Chang'e 5-T1 lunar mission. (It will, however, still hit the moon within a few kilometers of the predicted spot on 2022 March 4 at 12:25 UTC, within a few seconds of the predicted time,” wrote Gray on his website. The Chang’e 5-T1 mission sent a small spacecraft to the Moon in October 2014.
Featured Image Source: Tesmanian.com / Evelyn J. Arevalo