NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Spots Site of Mysterious Rocket Impact

NASA's Lunar Orbiter Spots Site of Mysterious Rocket Impact
Full resolution (100 cm pixels) image centered on the new rocket body impact double crater. NAC M1407760984R, image width 1,100 meters. | Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA’s lunar reconnaissance orbiter has photographed the site of a rocket impact that occurred last March. Not only has it created a strange double crater, it is also not clear where the rocket even came from.

Astronomers discovered the rocket heading towards the moon on a collision course last year, but the impact didn’t take place until March 4. The impact site has been photographed by the NASA lunar reconnaissance orbiter and, surprisingly, the crater is actually two craters: an eastern crater (18-meter diameter, about 19.5 yards) superimposed on a western crater (16-meter diameter, about 17.5 yards).

NASA's Lunar Orbiter Spots Site of Mysterious Rocket Impact
This animated GIF confirms the location of the newly formed rocket body double crater. The before image is LRO’s view from Feb. 28, 2022 (M1400727806L). The after image is from May 21, 2022 (M1407760984R). The width of the frame is 367 meters, about 401 yards. | Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA says the existence of the double-crater is unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had a large mass at each end.

“Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity,” the space agency writes.

NASA's Lunar Orbiter Spots Site of Mysterious Rocket Impact
A rocket body impacted the Moon on March 4, 2022, near Hertzsprung crater, creating a double crater roughly 28 meters wide in the longest dimension. LROC NAC M1407760984R; image enlarged 3x | Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA has not provided any guesses as to what the additional mass was that would have created the two craters. Chron reports that at least 47 NASA rocket bodies have created craters, or spacecraft impacts, on the Moon, with the four largest being attributed to the Apollo 13, 14, 15, and 17 missions.

NASA's Lunar Orbiter Spots Site of Mysterious Rocket Impact
These four images show craters formed by impacts of the Apollo SIV-B stages: crater diameters range from 35 to 40 meters (38.2 to 43.7 yards) in the longest dimension. | Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

It should be noted that no other rocket body impacts on the moon have created double craters though. NASA says that the four Apollo SIV-B craters had a “somewhat irregular” outline and were substantially larger (greater than 35 meters, or about 38 yards) than each of the double craters.

According to the photos, the maximum width of the double crater is about 29 meters, or about 31.7 yards and the mystery rocket body was near that of the S-IVBs.

NASA's Lunar Orbiter Spots Site of Mysterious Rocket Impact
The crater formed (5.226 degrees north, 234.486 degrees east, 1,863 meters elevation) in a complex area where the impact of ejecta from the Orientale basin event overlies the degraded northeast rim of Hertzsprung basin (536 kilometers diameter). The new crater is not visible in this view, but its location is indicated by the white arrow. LROC WAC mosaic, 110 kilometers width. | Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

No country or organization has yet claimed responsibility for or ownership of the rocket.

Image credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University