Update 2/14/2022: New analysis suggests the object that will hit the Moon is actually a Chinese booster, not a Falcon 9 second stage. Original article appears below.
Well here’s something you don’t see every day: A discarded Falcon 9 second stage booster that’s going to slam into the Moon. This inevitable impact, predicted for March 4, won’t be visible from Earth, but tomorrow will be our last chance to see this 4-ton chunk of space junk before it permanently drifts away from view.
The webcast, hosted by the Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, will start on Tuesday, February 8 at 1:00 p.m. EST (18:00 UTC). Astronomer Gianluca Masi will guide us through the event in real time—our final view of a SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage that’s been drifting in space for the past seven years. You can catch the action at the feed provided below. Don’t expect any clear views of the rocket, though, as the best we’ll get are images slightly better than one above.
Earlier today, Masi managed to image the wayward booster, showing it to be a bright dot moving fast across the starry background. He did so despite the conditions not being ideal, “but I did and I could easily see it flashing—a clear indication it is tumbling,” he explained in an email. To which he added: “Today and tomorrow it will be brighter and thus should be easier to see and be more spectacular.”
Masi managed to create an animation of the booster showing it tumbling about once every 90 seconds. He created this view by stitching together 268 individual four-second exposures, taken by a 17-inch robotic telescoped dubbed “Elena.”
This booster was the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket launched on February 11, 2015 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It was SpaceX’s first mission to interplanetary space, in which the Elon Musk-led company successfully delivered NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, to the first Lagrange point between Earth and the Sun. The booster became cislunar, stuck in an unstable orbit between the Earth and Moon.
The booster is expected to hit somewhere near the lunar equator on March 4, at speeds reaching 1.6 miles per second (2.58 km/s). SpaceX’s space junk will smash onto the far side of the Moon, where it will create a small crater. The impact won’t be visible from Earth, but it’ll be the first time a human-built object has unintentionally reached the lunar surface.