In March 2022, a metal object crashed into the moon, but its identity was a mystery. Scientists believed it to either be the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory mission or the Long March 3C rocket from the China National Space Administration's Chang'e 5-T1 mission. Just last month, a research paper led by AME doctoral student Tanner Campbell conclusively found the identity of the culprit behind a new crater on the moon.
By tracking the trajectory and conducting spectroscopic analysis using ground-based telescopes, the research team found the object that crashed into the moon to be China's Long March 3C rocket body. The study also found that the abandoned rocket stage likely carried an undisclosed, additional payload.
"We know the booster had an instrument deck mounted to its top end, but those weigh only about 60 pounds or so," Campbell said. "We performed a torque balance analysis, which showed that this amount of weight would have moved the rocket's center of gravity by a few inches – it wasn't nearly enough to account for its stable rotation. That's what leads us to think that there must have been something more mounted to the front."
Professor of Systems and Industrial Engineering Roberto Furfaro also contributed to the study "Physical Characterization of Moon Impactor WE0913A."