NASA has spotted the crash site of a mysterious rocket that slammed into the far side of the Moon in March, leaving behind a double crater.
The unusual crater appeared in new images taken on May 25 and shared by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 24. The collision resulted in two overlapping impact sites – an eastern crater measuring 59 feet (18 m) across and a western crater spanning 52.5 feet (16 m).
Astronomers expected the impact after discovering that an unidentified piece of space junk was on a collision course with the moon late last year. But “the double crater was unexpected,” the space agency said in a press release. “No other rocket body impacts on the moon created double craters.”
NASA says the two large craters at each end of the rocket could be due to the mass, but this would be unusual because the spent rocket has a heavy motor at one end and a lighter empty fuel tank at the other.
At least 47 NASA rocket bodies have made a “spacecraft impact” on the Moon, according to 2016 data from Arizona State University.
“I must admit that I naively thought it would be easy to find and located shortly after impact,” said astronomer Bill Gray, who first discovered the mysterious object and alerted NASA of its eventual collision, wrote on his blog Project Pluto, where he uses software to track near-Earth objects.
He pointed to efforts to find a booster for Apollo 16, which NASA had shot on the Moon in 1972 to study the Moon. But before the Apollo 16 booster could hit the Moon, NASA lost contact with it. The impact location remained elusive for years.
“Finding one small crater among hordes of craters isn’t all that easy,” Gray wrote of the Apollo 16 crater, adding, “That crater was found about six years after the other Apollo booster impacts. Compared to that, having to wait about three months looks pretty good.”
So far, no spacefaring nation has taken credit or blame for the mysterious rocket, reports. “Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity,” NASA said in a press release.