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SpaceX rocket orbiting Earth is on a collision course with the moon

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Photo by Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A SpaceX rocket that has been stranded in Earth's orbit for seven years is on a collision course with the Earth's moon, reports the Guardian.

The crewless Falcon 9 rocket, launched by Elon Musk's space exploration company in 2015, was part of an interplanetary mission to send a space weather satellite a million miles into the final frontier.

After breaking through the Earth's atmosphere and launching the weather satellite toward its destination, the rocket's second stage propulsion boosters malfunctioned, stranding it in orbit with not enough power either to advance or to return to Earth.

Bill Gray, a data analyst who tracks objects in space near Earth, observed that the stranded rocket will finally break free of its interplanetary purgatory, expecting it to crash into the moon in early March.

However, there is some uncertainty, as the Falcon 9 remains in a perpetual state of suspended free fall. It is difficult to predict the exact effect that sunlight, for instance, might have on the rocket's trajectory.

Gray said that "these unpredictable effects are very small. But they will accumulate between now and 2022 March 4."

The Falcon 9 is believed to weigh around four metric tons and will collide with the Moon in a matter of weeks while traveling at a velocity of 2.58 kilometers per second.

The Guardian reports that Bill Gray blogged about the Falcon 9 making a "close lunar flyby" this past January, which helped substantiate the theory that the two would soon collide.

Eric Berger, a meteorologist and the senior space editor for the technology blog Ars Technica, says that this is probably the first time a piece of hardware accidentally will make contact with the moon.

He writes, "It's likely that this will be the first time a piece of space hardware unintentionally strikes the Moon. Typically, during interplanetary missions, a rocket's upper stage is sent into a heliocentric orbit, keeping it away from the Earth and its Moon."

Berger claims that the soon-to-occur impact will enable nearby satellites to gather data about what lies beneath the moon's surface for the first time since 2009.

"NASA deliberately impacted a spent rocket upper stage into Moon in 2009," stated Berger, "Although scientists are most keen to understand the presence of ice at the lunar poles, being able to observe the subsurface material ejected by the Falcon 9 rocket's strike could still provide some valuable data."

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell confirmed the rocket's impending collision with the Moon but suggested that it is "not a big deal."

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