The science team for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) today released images identifying the location on the Moon where a mystery rocket stage crashed in March 2022.
The image to the right shows the before and after LRO images, with the impact at the center of the second photo, showing as two superimposed craters. Since the sunlight in the second image come from the opposition direction as the first, the shadows in all previously existing craters are reversed.
Surprisingly the crater is actually two craters, an eastern crater [59 feet diameter] superimposed on a western crater [52 feet diameter]. The double crater 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 [>115 feet in diameter] than each of the double craters. The maximum width [95 feet] of the double crater of the mystery rocket body was near that of the S-IVBs.
Though the evidence strongly points to this stage being from China, that fact is not certain, and China denies that conclusion.
Regardless, the unexpected double nature of the impact only increases the mystery, as it suggests that rocket stage had a mass distribution different than past stages.
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