A team of University of Arizona scientists successfully tracked a man-made object to a crash landing site on the far side of the moon.
UA planetary science professor Vishnu Reddy says it was a wayward rocket booster that seemed to unintentionally find its way to the moon's surface last year. He notes the incident points out the danger of Earth-launched space junk now extends all the way to lunar orbit.
"Just as we have garbage pickup every Monday or Thursday, we need to have a disposal plan where after the rocket body has done its duty," he said. "We crash it on the moon in a specific location or put it in certain orbits where it's going to remain for eternity."
An article followed the UA team as it identified the rocket stage as a discarded booster from a robotic Chinese spacecraft launched almost 10 years ago. The article appears this month in The Planetary Science Journal.
After the team calculated the location of the crash site, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed two fresh impact craters. Seeing two craters is a sign that a man-made object crashed into the lunar surface instead of an asteroid, which would have left a single crater.
Reddy notes the finding is important because an expected increase in manned and unmanned missions to the moon could deposit more space junk there during the next few years.