Mystery Rocket Body Found!

Double crater formed by impact of rocket body
A rocket body impacted the Moon on 04 March 2022 near Hertzsprung crater, creating an apparent double crater, roughly 28 meters wide in the longest dimension. LROC NAC M1407760984R enlarged 3x [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Astronomers discovered a rocket body heading towards a lunar collision late last year. Through a series of observations, they predicted the time of impact and its location (to within 100 kilometers). The identity of the rocket body remains unclear. Surprisingly the crater is actually two craters, an eastern crater (18 m diameter) superimposed on a western crater (16 m diameter).

Before-after temporal pair showing newly formed booster impact crater
The temporal pair shown above confirms the location of the newly formed rocket body crater. Before image M1400727806L, acquired 2022-02-28; after image M1407760984R, acquired 2022-05-21, width is 367 meters [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].


Mystery Rocket Body Double Crater (image 110 km wide)
The rocket body crater formed in a complex area (arrow, 5.226° N, 234.486° E, 1863 meters elevation) where ejecta from the Orientale basin event overlies the degraded northeast rim of Hertzsprung basin (536 kilometers diameter). LROC WAC mosaic 110 kilometers wide, new doublet crater not visible at this scale [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

The double crater shape was unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had large masses 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 help to indicate its identity.

No other rocket body impacts on the Moon created double craters. The four Apollo SIV-B craters were somewhat irregular in outline (Apollos 13, 14, 15, 17) and were substantially larger (>35 meters in diameter) than each of the double craters. The maximum width (29 meters) of the double crater of the mystery rocket body was near that of the S-IVBs.

NAC images of S-IVB impact craters
Craters formed by impacts of the Apollo S-IVB stages: crater diameters range from 35 to 40 meters in the longest dimension [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Full resolution (100 cm pixels) NAC M1407760984R centered on new double crater
Full resolution (100 cm pixels) image centered on the new rocket body impact double crater. NAC M1407760984R, image width 1100 meters [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

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Published by Mark Robinson on 23 June 2022