Space & Astronomy
Mystery 'undisclosed' payload involved in rocket's double-crater crash
By T.K. Randall
November 23, 2023 · 1 comment
What was the rocket carrying when it crashed ? Image Credit: Pixabay / Ponciano
A new study has concluded that a Chinese rocket that crashed into the Moon in 2022 was carrying a mystery payload.
The debris, which was first spotted by astronomers back in 2015, attracted quite a bit of attention in 2022 when it became apparant that it was going to impact on the far side of the Moon.
At the time, space-debris tracker Bill Gray initially believed that it was the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but further analysis later revealed that it was more likely to be China's Chang'e 5-T1 rocket which, having launched in 2014, had served as a dry run for a mission to collect some of the Moon's regolith.
Whatever it was, the object ultimately did crash onto the lunar surface, creating two overlapping craters.
Now, according to a new study, this peculiar double-crater suggests something strange about the object because, despite several dozen other known rocket impacts on the Moon, none had ever created two overlapping craters before.
"Something that's been in space as long as this is subjected to forces from the Earth's and the moon's gravity and the light from the sun," said study first author Tanner Campbell.
"So you would expect it to wobble a little bit, particularly when you consider that the rocket body is a big empty shell with a heavy engine on one side."
"But this was just tumbling end-over-end, in a very stable way."
The explanation, the researchers believe, is that the rocket was carrying some sort of mysterious payload that caused it to fall like a pair of dumbbells with the rocket boosters on one end and the unknown payload on the other.
This also explains why the impact created two craters instead of one.
Exactly what this unknown payload might have been, however, continues to remain a mystery.
"Obviously, we have no idea what it might have been - perhaps some extra support structure, or additional instrumentation or something else," said Campbell.
"We probably won't ever know."
Source: Live Science
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