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A SpaceX rocket's upper stage was caught on camera careening toward a collision course with the moon.
Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi caught the Falcon 9 rocket upper stage using a single 60-second exposure remotely taken using a 17-inch (43 centimeters) PlaneWave telescope in Rome. You can spot the stage amid a few "star streaks" induced from the telescope tracking the rocket stage in the sky.
"There was a very strong light and moon interference, and grabbing DSCOVR was quite hard," Masi said in a statement. "We also noticed the booster is spinning fast (period on the order of 10 seconds), showing very [noticeable] brightness fluctuations."
Here it the Falcon 9 DSCOVR’s booster, going to hit the Moon early next March. See how it blinks while tumbling! pic.twitter.com/X35DaN7n4CFebruary 7, 2022
DSCOVR refers to the name of the mission, called the Deep Space Climate Observatory. It was a joint effort led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA that launched in February 2015 from what was then called Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, on the east coast of Florida.
During launch, the upper stage depleted its fuel and was unable to return to Earth. For the past seven years it has been in an uncontrolled orbit, due to competing gravitational forces of the Earth, moon and sun.
The rocket stage is now expected to slam into the far side of the moon on March 4 at 7:25 a.m. EDT (1225 GMT), and it won't be visible from Earth. However, the Rome-based Virtual Telescope Project plans to offer a pair of live webcasts to discuss the mission.
The free, live webcast on Tuesday (Feb. 8) is available online, beginning at 1 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT). Because the live webcast depends on weather conditions, the schedule could change.