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A Space Junk Problem on its way to the Moon

A spent rocket booster will slam into Hertzsprung Crater on the far side of the Moon on March 4, becoming humanity’s first known piece of rubbish to reach the lunar surface accidently. Initially, skywatchers assumed the booster was part of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched in 2015. However, it is currently believed to be a component of a Chinese Long March 3C rocket that launched in 2014.

The mystery surrounding the booster’s origins demonstrates how difficult it is to trace Space debris near the Moon. Researchers expect the problem of lunar contamination to worsen as more governments and organisations prepare to travel to the Moon and beyond in the coming years. Here’s how they’re getting ready. About 23,000 known pieces of debris 30 centimetres or greater are currently in orbit above our planet, with up to 100 million shards 1 millimetre or larger.

The US Space Force uses radar to follow the larger parts, but only out to geostationary orbit, which is 58,000 kilometres from Earth. The Moon is roughly 400,000 kilometres from Earth, and nothing is known about things that pass within 70,000 kilometres of its surface, known as the “cone of shame,” according to Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona, who investigates near-Earth objects. Low-power radars are unable to reach the area, and telescopes struggle to distinguish objects when flying so close to the bright Moon.

According to Reddy, there are likely less than 200 huge bits of Space debris orbiting the Moon, but no one knows for sure. That number might skyrocket in the next five years, with about 50 planned missions from the US, China, Russia, other countries, and private enterprises aimed toward the lunar surface or orbital Space.On re-entry, the majority of debris that fall out of Earth’s orbit burn up in the atmosphere. However, because the Moon lacks an atmosphere, “there is no re-entry—just smash,” says Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astrophysicist who keeps track of artificial objects.

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