The incident occurred more than a month ago at this point, but in early April 2022 a popular Google search term had users wondering: What happened to the moon on March 4, 2022? Let's take a closer look at the collision that has space experts concerned.
What happened to the moon on March 4, 2022?
A rocket part crashed on the moon, as predicted, at around 7:25 a.m. EST on March 4, 2022. It smashed into the far side of the moon — where lunar orbiters were not able to observe the event — in the Hertzsprung crater, which is 350 miles wide. Humans weren't able to observe it from Earth, but the collision created a plume of dust that possibly lingered for hours, National Geographic reported.
The part was a discarded rocket stage that had been floating through deep space since at least 2015, according to the publication. Although the debris was initially thought to be from Elon Musk's SpaceX excursion, astronomers now believe the rocket stage could be from China's Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which launched in 2014. This is something China has denied.
"According to China’s monitoring, the upper stage of the Chang’e-5 mission rocket has fallen through the Earth’s atmosphere in a safe manner and burnt up completely," Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
However, the U.S. Space Command has since clarified that the Chinese rocket body “never de-orbited, adding it "cannot confirm the country of origin of the rocket body that may impact the moon," per an emailed statement to National Geographic.
What do experts think about the rocket part collision on the moon?
The immediate implications of the rocket stage crashing on the moon have little impact on Earth or humans — although it did create a 65-foot-wide crater on the moon's surface.
“It’s not a big deal at the current level of occupation of the moon, which is currently population: robots, a couple of dozen; humans, zero. And maybe alien mutants grown from the human poop left there,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics told National Geographic. “There’s not much for it to hit.”
Still, space experts have expressed concern over the potential implications of space junk in the future.
"We're not at a huge problem right now but if we don't do anything in the next decade, couple of decades, I think it's going to get a lot worse," John Crassidis, professor of applied sciences, of University at Buffalo told Good Morning America. "Certainly, in 50 years if we don't do something it's going to be a huge problem."
“We need to make sure that we go to space responsibly,” Michelle Hanlon, a space lawyer at the University of Mississippi and the founder of the nonprofit For All Moonkind, told National Geographic. "That means making sure we do the right things — we figure out where our rockets are going and make sure we don’t just start throwing stuff on the moon for the heck of it.”