NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.


2020 SO, discovered on September 17, is expected to orbit the Earth temporarily between November 2020 and May 2021. However, it is most likely to be not an asteroid, but the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA's Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the Moon on September 20, 1966, and which is approaching the Earth again after drifting into deep space.

The Surveyor Project was a lunar landing and exploration project to gather information about the Moon in preparation for the Apollo missions. In particular, Surveyor 3 marked the landing site for the later Apollo 12 mission.

The newly discovered Surveyor 2 was launched on an Atlas-Centaur rocket on September 20, 1966, in the United States for the second soft landing on the moon. However, a thruster failure caused the spacecraft to crash into the moon, and the rocket passed the moon and entered an orbit around the sun.

Analysis by NASA JPL's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) found that 2020 SO, discovered as an asteroid in September, has a different orbit than a normal asteroid due to the pressure of sunlight, suggesting that it is an empty tube made of light metal. They also calculated back to the orbit and found that 2020 SO had passed the Earth several times in the past, and even came very close in 1966, indicating that it was likely to have taken off from the Earth on the date of Surveyor 2's launch.

According to NASA, 2020 SO is expected to accelerate in Earth's orbit after its closest approach on Dec. 1, 2020, and then leave again in March 2021 for a larger orbit around the sun. Astronomers will perform spectroscopic analysis of 2020 SO while it remains in Earth's gravitational field to confirm its composition and possibly determine that it is an Atlas-Centaur rocket.

Source: NASA


This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.