An uncontrolled rocket will crash into the Moon tomorrow, creating a new crater on the surface.
The debris will crash into the Hertzsprung Crater on the far side of the Moon, which does not face Earth, at 4.25pm, Gulf Standard Time.
It will strike the surface at 9,300 kilometres per hour, fast enough to carve out a crater more than 10 metres wide.
This is the first time a piece of rocket will accidentally crash into the Moon.
The National explains everything you need to know about the collision.
Whose rocket is it?
Data analyst Bill Gray was the first to discover that a rocket stage was headed in the direction of the Moon.
He first identified it as a SpaceX rocket on his blog, but then corrected it to say that it was a remnant from China’s Long March 3C rocket that launched the Chang’e 5-T1 lunar robotic spacecraft in 2014.
China has denied ownership of the rocket, but Nasa disagrees.
“The booster used to launch Chang'e 5-T1 went into a highly elliptical Earth orbit after launch,” Nasa said on its website.
“Some calculations show it is on a trajectory to impact the far side of the Moon on March 4, 2022, although China's foreign ministry has denied this identification, stating that the booster had already burnt up in the Earth's atmosphere.”
Students from the University of Arizona had also been tracking the debris for weeks and said they had identified it as a Chinese rocket stage due to its paint job.
“I am astounded that we can tell the difference between the two rocket body options — SpaceX versus Chinese — and confirm which one will impact the Moon with the data we have,” said Adam Batle, a graduate student studying planetary science.
“The differences we see are primarily due to type of paint used by SpaceX and the Chinese.”
Tracking space objects
While the coming event is not an immediate safety problem for people on Earth, it has added to the concerns of astronomers who say that space debris needs to be tracked better.
Dr Dimitra Atri, a research scientist at NYU Abu Dhabi's Centre for Space Science, said that the collision will highlight how such an event could pose a serious threat to astronauts and infrastructure in future.
“Since our civilisation is highly reliant on space technology and space economy is going to play a major role in the coming decades, having an international space traffic management strategy is absolutely necessary,” he told The National.
“We do have a good system in place to monitor Earth-orbiting satellites but we need a similar capability to monitor the Moon especially since agencies around the globe are planning crewed missions and even establishing a permanent human base there.
“With increasing traffic to the Moon, the risk of space junk posing a threat to our astronauts and infrastructure is also increasing.”
Latest data shows that there are now more than one million debris items larger than 1cm orbiting around Earth.
This number is expected to grow, with more than 20,000 additional satellites expected to be launched in the next 10 years.
Hasan Al Hariri, chief executive of the Dubai Astronomy Group, said that the Moon should not face the same fate as low-Earth orbit, which is already crowded with satellites and space junk.
“This debris crashing on the Moon should be taken into consideration because we definitely don’t want to leave junk there, too,” he told The National.
“Many countries are looking to go to the Moon and the UAE is also going very soon with its Rashid rover.
“We need to manage our space junk effectively, especially in a way that we don’t cause a hazard to any other space missions.”