А mysterious object was about to fly past the Earth. Was it an asteroid? No. It was a NASA rocket booster!
At the end of November, a strange space mass was hurtling towards our planet. Not being able to identify its origins in the hours before the object passed by the Earth, scientists were baffled what it might be. Some speculated it was an asteroid, as reported by Newsweek.
The mysterious object was given the name 2020 SO. It was expected to come within 31,605 miles of our planet at 3:50 a.m. ET on December 1.
According to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the object was “likely not an asteroid.” At the beginning of November, they theorized:
“It’s probably the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the Moon in 1966.”
Despite that, after the Pan-STARRS survey based in Maui, Hawaii, detected the object, some initial observations assumed that 2020 SO was an asteroid. But these suggestions were soon busted by the American space agency.
Following a detailed analysis, it was revealed that 2020 SO is not an asteroid – It is the Centaur upper stage rocket booster from 1966.
“Scientists have confirmed that Near-Earth Object (NEO) 2020 SO is, in fact, a 1960’s-Era Centaur rocket booster.”
Paul Chodas, director of CNEOS(NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies), concluded that the so-called ‘mysterious’ object was the rocket booster from NASA’s ill-fated 1966 Surveyor 2 mission to the Moon.
After Chodas’ conclusion, Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor and planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, performed follow-up spectroscopy observations. Reddy confirmed:
“We got color observations with the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, that suggested 2020 SO was not an asteroid… We were finally able to solve this mystery because of the great work of Pan-STARRS, Paul Chodas and the team at CNEOS, LBT, IRTF, and the observations around the world.”
2020 SO was captured by Earth’s gravity on November 8. It is expected to remain in orbit around our planet as a temporary satellite until March 2021 before it escapes back into a new orbit around the Sun.