Astronomers capture possible image of NASA’s Long-Lost Centaur rocket booster


A possible image of NASA's lost Centaur Upper Stage rocket booster in 1966.

A possible image of NASA’s lost Centaur Upper Stage rocket booster in 1966.
The image: Gianluca Massey, an astronomer with the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0

A small mysterious object is passing through the Earth today, giving astronomers an excellent opportunity to finally confirm that it is in the form of the upper phase of the Centaur rocket. That Was launched by NASA in 1966.

Yes or No? This is the question astronomers have been asking since September, when scientists first with the STAR-SSR1 survey in Maui, Hawaii, Pa. Speckled Object, named 2020 SO. Astronomers have good reason to believe that it is returning space junk, particularly a surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster dating back to the 1960s. The trouble is that they haven’t really been able to prove it.

2020 SO normally revolves around the Sun, but Earth’s gravity has temporarily changed this object to an artificial minimum. The object will complete a pair of orbits around our planet before adopting a new orbit around the Sun, but today (December 1, 2020) is a special day, as the object is reaching the closest to Earth.

Gianluca Massey, an astronomer with the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, a group that uses remotely controlled telescopes to observe space. The opportunity to capture a picture of the object Last night.

“I managed to get a tracked image of the object, but also a trace [upper left in the photo] And the latter shows a dotted pattern, basically a bright dot, followed by a sculptor and so on, ”Masi explained in an email. “This shows that the object was rotating, with a duration of about 10 seconds.”

Masi said that they will have more to share soon, so we look forward to it.

Looking at the image, we still can’t believe we’re seeing a lost rocket booster, but we’d like to believe that it is. The purpose of NASA’s Surveyor 2 mission was to test the lunar surface before T.That Apollo mission. Launched on 20 September 1966, the mission started well, but on the second day, A thruster on Surveyor 2 failed to fire, throwing the spacecraft into a spin. Surveyor 2 crashed on the lunar surface, while Centaur overtook the upper phase moon And in an unknown orbit around the Sun.

After that, no one gave it much thought.

NASA’s surveyor program was actually quite successful, despite two failures from seven attempts to make a soft landing on the lunar surface between 1966 and 1968, you can learn more about these campaigns here.

Centaur second stage rocket during assembly in 1962.

Centaur second stage rocket during assembly in 1962.
The image: NASA

SO was observed by PanSTARRs shortly after 2020, astronomers at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory characterized the object because of its unpredictable behavior. The object’s orbit was more Earth-like than that of the asteroid, which was characteristic of an almost spherical orbit within the Earth’s orbital plane. It is not commonly seen in asteroids.

Additional observations revealed that the 2020 SO had a trajectory known as solar radiation pressure, known as NASA telling:

The pressure exerted by sunlight is small but constant, and it has more impact on a hollow object than a solid object. A spent rocket is essentially an empty tube and therefore a low-density object with a large surface area. So it would be pushed around by the pressure of solar radiation, which would be higher than the rock solid, high-density clumps – like an empty soda would be pushed by the wind compared to a small stone.

Given these differences, CNEOS director Paul Chodas sought to determine the origin of the object he had worked backwards in his orbit. In time to see where it was in the past. Their calculations showed that the 2020 SO demonstrated some close approach with Earth over the past few decades, but in 1966 the object was so close to flying that it could have originated from Earth.

In a NASA statement, Chodas said, “One of the possible paths of 2020 SO reached very close to the Earth and the Moon in late September 1966.” “It was like a Eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”

Today’s close flyby presents an excellent opportunity to study the 2020 SO even further, and for scientists to build an ironclad to confirm its identity. In addition to optical images, astronomers can study the object with a spectrometer to determine its chemical composition. We should know very soon whether this mystery item is actually the Centaur Upper Stage.

Whether it is artificial or natural, this object is certainly a temporary minimum. 2020 SO enters this special phase of its class on 8 November And In March 2021, the Earth’s gravity will break out of the clutches. The earth was Recently visited Asteroid 2020 CD3, which spent the last 2.7 years as a temporarily bound satellite, by a natural minimal.

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