A new mini-moon is reportedly en route to Earth’s orbit, coming within 27,000 miles of our home planet.
It’s believed the object isn’t actually an asteroid, and is in fact made up of old space junk that is making its way back to Earth.
Indeed, to be specific, it’s thought that this object, named Asteroid 2020 SO, is actually an old booster rocket dating back to the 1960s.
Speaking with CNN, director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, Dr. Paul Chodas, said:
I suspect this newly discovered object 2020 SO to be an old rocket booster because it is following an orbit about the Sun that is extremely similar to Earth’s, nearly circular, in the same plane, and only slightly farther away the Sun at its farthest point.
That’s precisely the kind of orbit that a rocket stage separated from a lunar mission would follow, once it passes by the Moon and escapes into orbit about the Sun. It’s unlikely that an asteroid could have evolved into an orbit like this, but not impossible.
Dr Chodas analysed the asteroid’s motion back through time, trying to connect it with any known lunar mission launch, and discovered it was most probably in the ‘vicinity of the Earth back in late 1966’.
This would therefore correlate with the Surveyor 2 launch on September 20, 1966, a mission designed for a soft landing on the Moon’s surface, but which resulted in the spacecraft crashing after a failure.
Dr Chodas explained that the Centaur rocket used to boost the spacecraft ended up bypassing the Moon and going into orbit close to the Sun. It was never to be seen again, but Dr Chodas suspects this object could well be it.
In a month or so we will get an indication of whether or not 2020 SO really is a rocket body, since we should start being able to detect the effect of sunlight pressure has on the motion of this object: if it really is a rocket body, it will be much less dense than an asteroid and the slight pressure due to sunlight will produce enough change in its motion that we should be able to detect it in the tracking data.
It’s expected the object will enter a distant orbit around Earth towards the end of November. If it’s an asteroid then it will be considered a mini-moon, but if it is in fact a booster rocket, it will be considered to be just another piece of space junk.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.
A new mini-moon is about to join Earth’s orbit. It could be a booster rocket from the 60s
Earth, Moon, Asteroid, Rocket, NASA, Space, Geocentric orbit
World news – GB – Earth Is About To Get A New Moon Made From Space Junk