by Corryn Wetzel/Smithsonianmag.com
A piece of a SpaceX rocket will crash into the moon after spending nearly seven years hurtling through space, experts predict.
The Falcon 9 booster was launched by Elon Musk’s space exploration company in 2015, but after completing its mission, it didn’t have enough fuel to return to Earth. The rocket’s second stage has been in an uncontrolled orbit ever since.
The rocket has been pulled by the competing gravitational forces of the Earth, moon, and sun, which has made its path chaotic, says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“It’s been dead—just following the laws of gravity,” McDowell says to Georgina Rannard for BBC. “Over the decades there have been maybe 50 large objects that we’ve totally lost track of. This may have happened a bunch of times before, we just didn’t notice.”
While the SpaceX rocket isn’t the only piece of “space junk” orbiting Earth, it could be the first documented rocket collision with the moon, according to data analyst Bill Gray who developed software that tracks near-Earth objects. Gray predicts the rocket will hit the far side of the moon on March 4, 2022.