A new fact has been revealed of a newly discovered “asteroid” that’s anticipated to get drawn to Earth’s gravity and become a mini moon next month.
Rather than a cosmic rock, the newly discovered asteroid seems to be an old rocket from a failed moon-landing mission 54 years ago that’s eventually finding its way back home, according to NASA’s leading asteroid expert. Observations should help nail its 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.”
Chodas believes that asteroid 2020 SO, as it was called, is really the Centaur upper rocket stage that successfully propelled NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander to the moon in 1966 before it was disposed of. The lander crashed into the moon after one of its thrusters could not ignite on the way there. The rocket, however, slid past the moon and into orbit around the sun as planned scrap, never to be seen again.
A telescope in Hawaii found the mystery object last month steering our way while executing a search aimed at insuring our planet from doomsday rocks. The object was put into the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center’s record of asteroids and comets found in our solar system, 5,000 shy of the 1 million mark.
The object is calculated to be approximately 26 feet (8 meters) based on its radiance. That’s in the range of the old Centaur, which would be less than 32 feet (10 meters) long comprising its engine nozzle and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.
“Flag number one,” said Chodas, who is director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
The object lies in the same plane as Earth, not bent above or below, which is another red flag. Asteroids usually dart by at unusual angles. It is moving towards Earth at 1,500 mph (2,400 kph), which is stagnant by asteroid standards.
The closer the object, the easier it should be for astronomers to chart its orbit and deduce how much it is shoved around by the radiation and thermal impacts of sunlight. If it’s an old Centaur — practically a light empty can — it will move contrarily to a huge space rock less vulnerable to external forces.
That’s how astronomers generally distinguish between asteroids and space scrap like disposed rocket parts, since both materialize solely as moving dots in the sky. It is possible that there are dozens of fake asteroids out there, but their motions are too unspecific or mixed to substantiate their artificial disposition, said Chodas.