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Rocket section struck the moon, astronomers say

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Rocket section struck the moon, astronomers say
The Moon rises behind the Statue Of Liberty in New Jersey on February 18. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

March 4 (UPI) -- Astronomers say a rocket likely hit the moon on Friday, based on the law of gravity, but experts told UPI on Friday there are currently no plans to go verify the crash or look for a crater.

Since the impact posed no threat to the moon or Earth-based space missions, there are no plans to confirm the strike until NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter moves over the region -- where a crater may be visible -- independent astronomer Bill Gray told UPI in an email.

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"Somebody has to go through the images and find a fresh, new crater. I don't think that last bit will take all that long though," said Gray, who develops software to track manufactured space objects. "I am quite confident that it hit at the specified time and location, though. We had lots of tracking data for the object."

NASA has said it could take weeks or months to find the impact crater in images from the LRO, though the agency has yet to announce a plan to move the satellite into position to do so.

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Gray discovered in January that the discarded rocket section would crash into the moon.

At first he thought it was a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage launched in 2015. But later, he and others in the astronomy community thought the errant rocket part may be from a Chinese mission launched in 2014.

China has denied that the rocket part originated from the mission.

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Regardless of who the rocket belongs to, the episode has highlighted a need for someone to track Deep Space manufactured objects, experts say.

Currently, the U.S. Space Force and other tracking efforts focus only on low-Earth orbit or geosynchronous orbit around 22,000 miles high.

The moon is 238,900 miles from Earth.

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Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who also tracks space objects based on available data, said he's not aware of any plans to search for the impact crater.

But he and Gray have both said there's a need for better tracking in Deep Space, especially with more lunar missions planned as part of NASA's Artemis program.

McDowell said there's no new data to confirm the lunar strike, which would have occurred around 7:25 a.m. EST.

"We rely on the law of gravity," McDowell said. "There is no better authority than Isaac Newton on this subject."

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Out-of-this-world images from space

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA

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