NASA: Earth to Get A Mini-Moon Or Just A Old Space Junk?
The jig could be up for an “asteroid” that NASA predicted next month to get nabbed by the gravity of Earth and become a mini-moon.
Instead of space rock, according to NASA‘s leading asteroid expert, the newly found object appears to be an old rocket from a failed moon. It landed 54 years ago that is finally making its way back home. Observations can lead to nailing the identity.
“I’m pretty jazzed about this,” Paul Chodas told The Associated Press. “It’s been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link, and I’ve been doing it for decades now.”
As it is formally identified, Chodas speculates that asteroid 2020 SO is the Centaur upper rocket stage. In 1966 successfully propelled NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander to the moon before it was discarded. After one of its thrusters failed to ignite on the way there, the lander ended up crashing into the moon. Meanwhile, as a planned junk, the rocket swept past the moon and into orbit around the sun. Never to be seen again, until maybe now.
The mysterious object moving our way was discovered last month by a telescope in Hawaii. At the same time, we were doing a mission to shield our planet from doomsday rocks. The object was immediately added to the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union’s tally of asteroids. Comets detected in our solar system. Just 5,000 short of the 1 million marks.
The object is estimated to be roughly 26 feet (8 meters) based on its brightness. That’s in the ballpark of the old Centaur, which would be less than 32 feet (10 meters) long including its engine nozzle and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.
How Researchers Came To Know That It is Not An Asteroid?
First, its near-circular orbit, which is uncommon for an asteroid, around the sun.
The object is also in the same plane as the Planet, another red flag, not rotated above or below. On the other side, asteroids are typically zipped up at odd angles.
Another reality is that at 2,400 kph, it reaches Earth. There are faster asteroids.
Chodas was quoted by AP as saying that there are potentially hundreds of fake asteroids out there. But their movements are too imprecise or jumbled to confirm their phoney identification.
“I could be wrong on this. I don’t want to appear overly confident,” Chodas told AP. “But it’s the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch.