CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Earth’s gravitational force allows the jig to move towards the “asteroid”, which is expected to become a small moon next month.
According to NASA’s asteroid experts, the newly discovered object instead of a rock in space appears to be an old rocket finally returning home from a failed lunar landing mission 54 years ago. Observation will help confirm its identity.
“I’m pretty jazzed about this,” Paul Chodas told AP. “It’s been my hobby to find one of these and draw those links, and I’ve been doing it for decades now.”
Chodas speculates that the officially known asteroid 2020 SO is actually the Centaur upper rocket phase that successfully propeled NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander to the moon in 1966. The lander crashed on the moon after one of the thrusters failed to light it. Meanwhile, the rocket passed the moon and revolved around the sun, which was never seen again.
Last month, a telescope in Hawaii found a mystery object pointing towards us during a search to protect Earth from the Last Rock. This celestial body was immediately added to the aggregate of the International Astronomical Union’s Asteroid Center for asteroids and comets found in our solar system.
The object is estimated to be approximately 8 meters (26 feet) based on brightness. It is on the ballpark of the older Centaur, less than 10 meters (32 feet) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter, including engine nozzles.
What caught Chodas’ interest is that the close circular orbit around the Sun is very similar to Earth. It is rare for an asteroid.
“#1 on the flag,” said Chodas, director of the Center for Near Object Research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California.
The object is on the same plane as the Earth and is another red flag that does not tilt up or down. Asteroids usually move at odd angles. Finally, it is slowly approaching Earth at a speed of 1,500 mph (2,400 kph) on an asteroid basis.
Astronomers need to be able to better understand their orbits as objects get closer and determine how much they have been pushed away by the solar radiation and thermal effects. An older Centaur (basically a light empty can) would move differently than a heavy space rock that is less susceptible to external forces.
This is how astronomers usually separate space junk from asteroids and abandoned rocket parts. Because both appear only as moving dots in the sky. There are likely dozens of fake asteroids, but their movements are so inaccurate or jumbled that it’s difficult to identify their artificial identities, Chodas said.
Sometimes the opposite is true.
For example, in 1991, the enigmatic celestial body was determined by Chodas and others as ordinary asteroids rather than debris, although their orbit around the sun resembles Earth.
Even more exciting, in 2002, Chodas discovered what NASA astronauts thought were the remaining Saturn V phase 3 from the 1969 Apollo 12, when it landed on the second moon. He admits that the evidence is contextual, given the confusion of objects orbiting the Earth for a year. It was not designated an asteroid and left Earth orbit in 2003.
The path of modern objects is direct, much more stable and supports his theory.
“I can be wrong about this. I don’t want to look overly confident,” Chodas said. “But, in my opinion, this is the first time that every part fits with a known release.”
And he is delighted with the fact that it was a mission he performed in 1966 as a teenager in Canada.
Carrie Nugent, asteroid hunter at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, said Chodas’ conclusion was a “good conclusion” based on solid evidence. She is the author of the 2017 book “Asteroid Hunters”.
“More data will be useful so we know for sure,” she said in an email. “Asteroid hunters around the world will continue to observe this object to get this data. We are excited to see how this evolves!”
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said, “There have been a lot of embarrassing events with celestial bodies in deep orbits. I was given a temporary asteroid designation for days to realize that it was artificial.”
It’s hardly obvious.
Last year, British amateur astronomer Nick Howes announced that an asteroid in solar orbit is likely to be an abandoned lunar module at NASA’s Apollo 10 rehearsal for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. This object is likely artificial, but Chodas and others are skeptical of the connection.
Skepticism is good, Howes wrote in an email. In the late 2030s, “I hope more observations will be made when we are at the next stage of our forest.”
Chodas’ recent interest was passed through the Earth in 1984 and 2002 at their respective wheels around the Sun. But, he said, it’s too dark to see from 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) away.
He predicts that if this object is captured in mid-November, it will take about four months to orbit the Earth and will launch again in its own orbit around the Sun next March.
Chodas suspects that this object will hit Earth. “At least not this time.”
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