As soon as he saw the data, Paul Chodas knew that there was something strange about the object near the Earth, which was named 2020 SO.
It should have been one of the tens of thousands of space rocks that astronomers have seen bouncing through our neighborhood in space. This solar system debris is mostly harmless, but scientists can identify and track an object in the event it collides with the Earth. As head of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Chodas evaluates observations of these objects every day.
And Choda, 2020 SO Did not look like an asteroid. Instead, it seemed far more rare: an abandoned rocket body that had ever sent a spacecraft to the moon.
“The night it was also announced, I said, ‘I think this is the kind of rocket phase like this and that. I guess, all the circumstantial evidence points to that,” Chodas said in late September. Told Space.com.
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Now, the comments that have been going on for almost a month have confirmed that the 2020 SO is moving more like a spent rocket stage than a space rock, just by hitting it with sunlight.
“Our latest orbit calculations for this object clearly show that it is being affected by non-gravitational forces, possibly solar radiation pressure,” he wrote in an email update, calling those calculations “very strong evidence.” That object is not a space rock. .
“One small star “But an empty can will be pushed around like a rocket platform,” Chodas told Space.com during his original interview.
But he did not require ongoing observations to believe that the then space rock was in fact human debris, the rocket’s spent Centaur upper stage, which, in 1966, was sent to a NASA mission Surveyor 2 And the moon.
Chodas is one of those scientists who have kept their eyes peeled for something similar for more than a decade. “We are working on whether [or] When it will, “he said. I’ve seen the asteroid’s orbits over the years to see if any of them were in an orbit around the Sun that was likely associated with a launch.”
And 2020 SO is the best match to date. There are two characteristics in particular about the object’s travel: its slow motion and how its trajectory around the Sun aligns with the Earth’s own orbit. Asteroids do not behave in this way – they travel much faster and more quickly in relation to the Earth’s own path around the Sun.
Instead, Chodas said, the class of 2020 SO screams that it’s a rocket body from a mission The moon. “It was clearly not from Mars or Venus or any other projection because they would be in orbits that would take them out,” Chodas said. “These are all signs of a lunar mission,” he said of the object’s orbit.
In particular, the 2020 SO looks like an object that was trying to land a spacecraft on the moon – slowly, and therefore not particularly fast. “The spacecraft had to slow down, you want to approach the moon fairly slowly,” Chodas said. “So the rocket object missed the moon and went into orbit around the sun, just barely.” (Meanwhile, the Surveyor 2 spacecraft made a soft landing on its own and Lunar crashed into the surface.)
This is the reason why slowly, due to the orbit of the Earth which ejected from Chodas. “So I first suspected that it could be a rocket body, and from a lunar mission,” he said.
Chodas was then fit to re-orbit, so to speak, to determine that the 2020 SO may have left the Earth-Moon system. answer? In late 1966. But the ’60s were, of course, the height of the moon’s boundary space race, And between the US and the Soviet Union, 10 missions were launched that year on the moon.
But between later launch dates, the trajectory details needed to land on the moon more slowly than just to make it into orbit, and the relative size of potential rocket bodies, Chodas soon became convinced that the 2020 SO was indeed Is in Centaur Upper Stage On September 20, 1966, NASA was used to launch Surveyor 2 mission.
He said the identity had not been confirmed, he noted in his update email, although it was “likely increasing,” he wrote. He and his colleagues are still analyzing the forces that must have worked on the object in the last half century.
But preliminary data is compelling for circumstantial evidence, he said.
“This orbit is so precisely known that I can be sure of the energy with which the rocket left the moon, and the direction and geometry,” Chodas said during the original interview. “Everything Surveyor 2 Mission – Velocity, Proximity to Moon, Date – Everything matches that launch, and it doesn’t match other launches.”
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