PAUL Chodas, an asteroid expert at NASA, has discovered an interesting thing about an asteroid that is expected to enter Earth’s orbit next month,media reported. It turns out that this asteroid is not an asteroid at all. Instead, he sees it as a rocket booster for a failed mission to the moon decades ago. The failed mission took place 54 years ago, and the rocket booster is only now back on Earth.
Scientists believe they will be able to identify the rocket in future observations and link it to specific missions. Chodas speculates that asteroid 2020 SO was the Centar-class rocket that propelled NASA’s Surveyor 2 to the moon in 1966. The top-stage rocket was discarded and the lander itself fell to the moon after the thruster failed to ignite.
The top-stage rocket was supposed to fly over the moon and end up orbiting the sun. The object was discovered by a telescope in Hawaii on a mission to find asteroids that could harm Earth. Scientists estimate the object to be about 26 feet long, about the length of a Centeraur rocket.
Chodas said he noticed that the object was in a near-circular orbit around the sun, which was unusual for an asteroid. He described it as a “sign number one”. The object is also on the same plane as earth, rather than tilting above or below, which is the “sign number two”. He also said the object was approaching Earth at 1,500 miles per hour, which is slow for asteroids.
As it gets closer, astronomers will be able to map its orbit and determine how much it is driven by solar radiation and thermal effects. If it were a rocket booster, it would move in a different way than a giant asteroid, which is less susceptible to these external forces.