Space observers say part of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that has been floating around space for nearly seven years is on track to collide with the moon.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched in February 2015 carrying NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which monitors solar wind and other space weather. After delivering DSCOVR, the rocket’s upper stage didn’t have enough energy to return to Earth’s atmosphere or to escape the Earth-Moon system, according to Eric Berger at Ars Technica. It’s had a “chaotic orbit” since then, affected by the gravity of the Earth, moon, and sun.

Falcon 9 rocket launch.  Credit: Getty Images.

Falcon 9 rocket launch. Credit: Getty Images.

Bill Gray, the developer of Project Pluto, a suite of software for tracking near-Earth objects, asteroids, and comets, has been keeping an eye on the rocket stage. Collecting data from professional and amateur astronomers, he calculates that it should hit the moon at around 5,600 miles per hour on March 4th. The impact is likely to happen on the far side of the moon and go unobserved, but it’s possible that there could be something to learn about lunar geology based on the crater it leaves.

The rocket stage won’t be the first man-made object to hit the moon. In 2009, NASA intentionally sent spacecraft into the moon to check for water at its poles. It might be the first chunk of spacecraft to unintentionally strike the moon, but a lot of various space junk isn’t closely tracked.

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“This is the first time that something not explicitly targeted at the Moon has been noticed to accidentally hit it, but that’s mainly because we weren’t paying attention until recently,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics , on his website.

“There are about 30 to 50 lost deep space objects like this that have been missing for years – 50 years in some cases – that haven’t been picked up by asteroid searches, and probably some of them hit the moon.”

For other space news, check out our articles about an asteroid that just passed Earth and a moon of Saturn that might be hiding an ocean.

Kait Sanchez is a freelance writer for IGN. Find them on Twitter @crisp_red.

Main image credit: NASA





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