Is it an Asteriod? Is it an upper stage Booster?


Valued Senior Member
Earth and the Moon Might Have Captured an Old Upper Stage Rocket:

Back in September, the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope noticed an object that followed a slight but distinctly curved path in the sky, a telltale sign that it was captured by Earth’s gravity. Initially, this object was thought to be a near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) and was given a standard designation by the Minor Planet Center (2020 SO). However, the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA JPL had another theory.

Based on its orbit and the way solar radiation appeared to be pushing it off course, NASA scientists have since concluded that the object might actually be the spent upper stage booster of the Centaur rocket that launched the Surveyor 2 spacecraft towards the Moon in 1966. This finding could have implications for future surveys that pick up mysterious objects near Earth (‘Oumuamua occur).

The first hints were the highly unusual orbit of the object, which was at about the same distance as Earth is to the Sun, in a similar orbital plane, and nearly circular. But the decisive clue came when astronomers at Pan-STARRS and around the world made additional observations of 2020 SO that revealed the degree to which solar radiation was altering its trajectory.


Animation of 2020 SO’s orbit on Nov. 8, 2020. Its motion has been speeded up a million times faster than real-time. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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