NASA’s Lunar Recon Orbiter Spots Mystery Rocket Crater Pair On The Moon

The twin craters are exceptional even by rare moon-impact standards and have baffled scientists.
NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic spacecraft orbiting the Moon for mapping purposes, has spotted a strange pair of craters on the Moon that scientists believe was caused by a rocket impact. The imagery, however, raises just as many questions as it answers because it looks different than previous rocket impacts on the Moon, namely because it’s a twin pair of craters, rather than a single impact site.

The full imagery shows a tiny pair of new scars inside of the Hertzprung Crater, a massive ancient impact site on the far side of the Moon. The pair of new impacts, together, are roughly 90 feet wide in their largest dimension.

Rocket stage impact craters are absolutely not unheard of—NASA has imagery of impacts from Apollo 13, 14, 15, and 17 booster stages impacting the Moon in the 1970s—but the twin-crater nature of this one makes it confusing. Scientists had previously spotted a rocket stage on a collision course with the moon, but its source was unknown; after the impact, no country has stepped up to claim responsibility for the impact or the rocket stage.

NASA notes that the nature of the craters “may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end,” as opposed to the traditional (and larger) impact sites from the Apollo stages, which only have the main mass—the engine of the rocket—at the base, and leave a single impact scar. While the crater is unique and would explain where it came from if anyone actually knew of a rocket with strangely-proportioned mass, NASA has not offered any explanations.

Space junk is a general problem plaguing the entire world, with the ISS routinely having to dodge rogue discarded rocket bodies and increasing worries as satellites proliferate in low-Earth orbit that humanity could accidentally trigger Kessler syndrome, trapping humanity in the wreckage of its own satellites. Even with this constant concern about space junk, however, unknown impacts are relatively rare on other celestial bodies, which makes this whole situation even stranger.

Without a country—or perhaps the Space Force—offering an explanation this may stay an unsolved mystery for the time being, unfortunately.

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