Cape Canvas, Fla. – The jig could be for an “asteroid” that hopes to get nabbed by Earth’s gravity and become a mini-moon next month.
Instead of a cosmic rock, the newly discovered object appears to be an old rocket from a failed moon-landing mission 54 years ago that is finally coming back home according to NASA’s chief asteroid expert. Comments should help build their identity.
“I’m very surprised about this,” Paul Chodas told The Associated Press. “It has been a hobby of mine to find one of these and attract links like this, and I’ve been doing it for decades.”
Chodas speculated that the asteroid 2020 SO, as it is formally known, is actually the Centaur upper rocket stage, which successfully landed NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander before successfully landing on the moon in 1966. The lander crashed into the moon after failing to ignite its way. In this way, the rocket, in the rear of the Moon and in orbit around the Sun, as it is junk, can never be seen again – perhaps until now.
A telescope in Hawaii discovered the mystery object last month, which was doing a search to save our planet from the rocks of the Holocaust. The object was immediately added to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center matching asteroids and comets found in our solar system, 5,000 shy of just 1 million mark.
The object is estimated at about 26 feet (8 m) based on its brightness. It is in the ballpark of the old Centaur, which will be less than 32 feet (10 m) long, with an engine nozzle and 10 feet (3 m) in diameter.
Chodas’s attention was drawn that his near-circular orbit around the Sun is similar to that of the Earth – unusual for an asteroid.
“Flag number one,” said Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
The object is also in the same plane as the Earth, not tilted up or down, another red flag. Asteroids usually zip from odd angles. Finally, this asteroid is approaching Earth at a slow speed of 1,500 mph (2,400 kilometers per hour) by standards.
As the object draws closer, astronomers should be able to make better charts in its orbit and determine how much it is surrounded by the radiation and thermal effects of sunlight. If it is an old centaur – essentially a light empty can – it will move differently than a heavier space that is less susceptible to external forces.
This is why astronomers commonly distinguish between asteroids and space junk like abandoned rocket parts, as both appear only as moving points in the sky. Chodas said that there are likely dozens of fake asteroids out there, but their intentions are too artificial or jump to confirm their artificial identities.
Sometimes it is the other way around.
For example, in 1991 a mystery object, determined by Chodas and others, was similar to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, despite being a regular asteroid instead of debris.
Even more exciting, Chodas found in 2002 that he believed the remaining Saturn V from 1969 Apollo 12 was the second lunar landing by NASA astronauts in Phase III. He believes the evidence was circumstantial, orbiting around the Earth for a year. It was never named as an asteroid, and in 2003 left Earth orbit.
The path of the latest object is direct and much more stable, affecting their theory.
“I could be wrong on this. I do not want to express excessive confidence, ”Chodas said. “But this is the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch.”
And he was happy to learn that this was a mission he had followed in 1966 as a teenager in Canada.
Chodus’s conclusion is “a good one” based on solid evidence, said asteroid hunter Carrie Nugent of the Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts. She is the author of the 2017 book “Asteroid Hunters”.
“Some more data would be useful so that we would know for sure,” she said in an email. “Asteroids around the world will continue to look at this object to get that data. I am excited to see how it develops! ”
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Jonathan McDowell mentions that “many times, there have been many embarrassing incidents of objects in deep orbit … obtaining a provisional asteroid designation for a few days before it is realized to be artificial.”
This is rarely apparent.
Last year, a British amateur astronomer, Nick Hovus, announced that an asteroid in solar orbit was likely to have an abandoned lunar module from NASA’s Apollo 10, a precursor to the landing of the Apollo 11 moon. Although this item is artificial, Choda and others are skeptical in this regard.
Skepticism is good, Hoves wrote in the email. “It is hoped that in the late 2030s when it will be next to the forest, there will be more observations.”
He said that Chodas’ latest target was passed by Prithvi in their respective laps around the sun in 1984 and 2002. But it was too dim to see from 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) away, he said.
He predicts that it will take about four months to orbit the Earth in mid-November, before it starts shooting back into its orbit around the sun next November.
Chodas suspects that the object will slam into the Earth – “at least not around this time.”
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