Snapshot: Rocket impact created double crater on the Moon

A pair of lunar craters recently excavated when a rocket slammed into the Moon may hint at the nature of the human-made impactor responsible.
By | Published: July 5, 2022 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The eastern crater is about 60 feet (18 meters) across while the western crater is slightly smaller at 52 feet (16 m) in diameter.
NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Last year, astronomers discovered that a rogue rocket body was on a collision course with the Moon. The impact occurred March 4, 2022. Now, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the resulting crater — or rather craters.

The fact that the collision produced two craters is odd; no previously witnessed rocket-body impacts on the Moon have created such a double crater. This suggests something about the identity of the rocket that slammed into the lunar surface.

While the Apollo SIV-B craters are somewhat irregular and much larger, none of them produced a double crater.
NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

According to the NASA press release, in order to produce such a double crater, the rocket likely had to have a large mass on either end, a feature not usually seen in a spent rocket, whose mass is concentrated at the end where the engines reside. This suggests the impactor was either a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched in 2015 or a Chinese 5-1 booster launched in 2014.

However, the impactor’s true identity still remains unclear, and neither party has yet taken responsibility.