NASA says the mysterious 'Mini-Moon' is actually a 1960s rocket booster

04 Décembre, 2020, 17:25 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Mystery solved: NASA confirmed the space object that just zipped past Earth is a 1960s rocket booster

On Tuesday, a mysterious object flew past Earth coming within 32,000 miles of the planet.

Telescopic inspections have now revealed the steel composition of the 2020 SO.

After the data was compared with the history of previous NASA missions, Paul Chodas, Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) director, concluded 2020 SO could be the Centaur upper stage rocket booster from NASA's 1966 Surveyor 2 mission to the Moon.

On Wednesday, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that the object, formerly known as 2020 SO, was the booster of a Centaur rocket that was launched in 1966.

NASA has posted a video of 2020 SO's looping orbits around the Earth.

Like Chodas, many scientists had suspected that this object was the Surveyor 2 booster, since reverse simulations of its orbit placed it so close to Earth in September 1966 that it could have easily come from our planet.

NASA collected data from the Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) and orbit analysis from the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to determine the orbit of 2020 SO.

On Dec. 1, Reddy and his team observed a Centaur D rocket booster from a launch of a communication satellite in 1971.

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This 1964 photo shows a centaur top-level rocket before being attached to the Atlas booster.

Another hint that it is not a space rock is the speed it is travelling at - just 0.6 kilometres per second.

"Due to the extreme dizziness of this substance [Center for Near-Earth Object Studies] Forecasting is a challenging subject, "said Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor and planetary scientist at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory".

"This conclusion was the result of a tremendous team effort", said Reddy. "We were finally able to solve this mystery".

But as per NASA, 2020 SO's orbit around the Sun was similar to that of the Earth's, "was at about the same distance, nearly circular, and in orbital plane that almost exactly matched that of our planet- highly unusual for a natural asteroid".

2020 SO initially "slowly drifted" into Earth's Hill sphere on November 8, 2020, and will remain there for roughly four months before it goes back into orbit around the sun in March 2021.

The Centaur Booster will be sticking with us for a few months, but its space adventures are expected to continue around the sun in March 2021.



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