Is this a new asteroid mini-moon or a man-made mini-moon? This is the question of a small object approaching the Earth called 2020 SO. NASA’s Small Bodies Database predicts that the object will be captured by Earth’s gravity in October 2020 and will be temporarily taken into orbit.
But several unusual features of the 2020 SO suggest that it may not be a small asteroid, like the two previously known temporary mini-moons that have briefly orbited our planet. Instead, this new object could actually be an old object from Earth – an old rocket part of the second stage of the lunar landing mission Surveyor 2, launched in 1966.
Mini-moons or TCOs (temporary captured objects) probably happened more in history than we know, but only two have been confirmed: the 2006 RH120, which was in Earth orbit from 2006 to 2007, and the one discovered earlier. this year, 2020 CD3, in Earth orbit from 2018 to 2020. These objects are definitely small space rocks.
But the 2020 SO trajectory models show that it has an orbit very similar to Earth’s and is approaching at a very low speed – approximately 1880 miles per hour (3025 km / h) or 0.84 km per second. .5 mph ). This is an extremely low speed for an asteroid, even a piece of rock that could be ejected from the moon. Also, the size of SO 2020 is estimated to be between 20 and 45 feet (6 to 14 meters), definitely comparable to the Centaur-D stage, which was part of the Surveyor 2 mission, which measures approximately 41 feet or 12 meters.
Trajectory calculations show that the object orbits the Sun every 1.06 years (387 days). It is to be captured from Earth temporarily from October 2020 to around May 2021.
Amateur astronomer Kevin Haider said on Twitter that during the closest approach on December 1, 2020, 2020, SO will only clear up to an approximate size of 14.1 and will require a telescope with an approximately 150 mm (6 () lens. to see visually.
Hawaii’s astronomers from the Pan-STARRS1 telescope first spotted the 2020 SO on September 17, 2020. They identified it as an asteroid and added it as the asteroid Apollo to JPL’s small-body database. Apollo asteroids are a class of asteroids whose paths cross Earth’s orbit and are often found close to Earth.
You can play with the trajectory of the orbit of 2020 SO on this link.
In a group of reports to astronomers, it was noted that Paul Chodas, director of NASA’s Middle World Object Center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, suggested that the object could be a Surveyor 2 rocket booster. Another report showed that observations showed that it looks chaotic.
Surveyor 2 launched on the moon on September 20, 1966. It was supposed to land on the moon to make reconnaissance of Apollo’s mission to the man on the moon, but a mid-course correction failed when the pusher did not ignite and eventually NASA lost contact with the spacecraft. The failure caused the spacecraft to spiral out of control and eventually crashed on the moon near Copernicus Crater.
Astronomers will observe how this object is captured by the Earth’s gravity and hope to say definitively what SO 2020 really is.
Further reading: Futurism, EarthSky