Physical Characterization of Moon Impactor WE0913A

Tanner Campbell, Adam Battle, Bill Gray, Steven R. Chesley, Davide Farnocchia, Neil Pearson, Grace Halferty, Vishnu Reddy, Roberto Furfaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


On 2022 March 4, the object known as WE0913A crashed into the Moon after several close flybys of the Earth and the Moon in the previous three months. Leading up to impact, the identity of the lunar impactor was up for debate, with two possibilities: the Falcon 9 from the DSCOVR mission or the Long March 3C from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission. In this paper, we present a trajectory and spectroscopic analysis using ground-based telescope observations to show conclusively that WE0913A is the Long March 3C rocket body (R/B) from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission. Analysis of photometric light curves collected before impact give a spin period of 185.221 ± 6.540 s before the first close Earth flyby on 2022 January 20 and a period of 177.754 ± 0.779 s, both at a 1σ confidence level, before the second close Earth flyby on 2022 February 8. Using Markov Chain Monte Carlo sampling and a predictive light curve simulation based on an anisotropic Phong reflection model, we estimate both physical and dynamical properties of the Chang’e 5-T1 R/B at the start of an observation epoch. The results from the Bayesian analysis imply that there may have been additional mass on the front of the rocket body. Using our predicted impact location, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to image the crater site approximately 7.5 km from the prediction. Comparing the pre- and post-impact images of the location shows two distinct craters that were made, supporting the hypothesis that there was additional mass on the rocket body.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number217
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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