NASA announced last week that it discovered an unusual pair of craters on the moon earlier this year that were caused by a rocket of unknown design and origin.
The agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) continuously collects data from the moon’s surface. The LRO identified the double craters on March 4, sometime after the unknown rocket body crashed into the surface. One crater is around 19.5 yards across and the other is around 17.5 yards wide.
NASA manages the LRO from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. It has been in operation since 2009 and has seven instruments used to map and collect information from the lunar surface. The LRO detects changes or anomalies on the surface like the mystery craters detected this year.
The LRO is crucial to NASA’s plans for returning the U.S. to the moon along with commercial and international partners. The moon is being evaluated as a base for further space exploration from a low-gravity launch point.
Although the nature of the rocket body is unknown, NASA said the twin craters might have been created from a rocket with a large mass on either end. Typical rockets of the type that can reach the moon normally have most of their mass on the lower end where the engines are located.
The agency said that no previously known rocket crash or touch-down has ever caused a similar double crater.
Chron reported Thursday that no nation has yet claimed responsibility for the mystery rocket. NASA scientists reportedly remain baffled as to the source of the rocket.
Astronomers predicted the lunar crash after spotting the unidentified space projectile late last year on a collision course with the moon. It crashed on the far side of the lunar surface and scientists had to then rely on the LRO to locate the precise crash site.
NASA issued a press release last week confirming that the origin of the unusual rocket is unknown, but said that the double crater may help scientists identify the nature of the craft. The agency said that although the crater formation is unique, the size of the craters is not substantially different from those caused by rocket debris from Apollo missions and other U.S. spacecraft.