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Space Junk Set to Crash into the far side of the Moon

A rocket part that’s been careering around space for years is set to collide with the Moon on Friday, and it will be the first time a chunk of space junk has unintentionally slammed into the lunar surface. It’s predicted to hit the around 7:26 a.m. ET at about 5,500 miles per hour, but the event won’t be visible from Earth because the impact is expected to take place on the far side of the Moon.

The only way to know exactly where the rocket hits are through images. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will not be in a position to observe the impact as it happens, the agency said. However, the orbiter’s mission team assesses whether any changes to the lunar environment associated with the impact can be made and later identifies the crater formed by the effect.

This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity. Following the impact, the mission can use its cameras to identify the impact site, comparing older images to images taken after the crash. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter may also locate the impact crater, which could be up to 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter. It will be far from the only crater on the Moon, with no protective atmosphere. This means impact craters occur naturally when hit by objects like asteroids — which is a regular occurrence. Craters have also resulted from spacecraft being deliberately crashed into the Moon. There is a possibility of biocontamination at the crash site since rocket parts aren’t sterile when launched, said David Rothery, a professor of planetary geosciences at The Open University in the United Kingdom.

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