A mysterious object will fly previous the Earth tomorrow and scientists nonetheless aren’t fairly positive what it’s.
The article, dubbed 2020 SO by astronomers, will come inside “simply” 31,605 miles of our planet at 3:50 a.m. ET on December 1, in keeping with NASA’s Middle for Close to Earth Object Research (CNEOS.)
That is an “extraordinarily shut,” albeit secure, strategy, with the thing passing at a distance equal to round 13 p.c of the common distance between our planet and the moon, astronomer Gianluca Masi from the Digital Telescope Venture advised Newsweek.
The article, which is estimated to measure between 15-33 toes throughout, was found by the Pan-STARRS survey primarily based in Maui, Hawaii, on September 17, 2020. This discover was confirmed two days later by the Minor Planet Middle, which is accountable for the designation of minor our bodies within the photo voltaic system.
Preliminary observations advised that the thing was an asteroid. However scientists at CNEOS quickly started to suspect that 2020 SO was not a standard asteroid.
“We aren’t positive it’s an asteroid—that’s, a pure physique,” Masi wrote on the Digital Telescope Venture web site.
CNEOS director Paul Chodas subsequently advised that 2020 SO will not be an asteroid in any respect, tentatively figuring out it because the Centaur rocket booster from NASA’s failed Surveyor 2 lunar mission, which launched on September 20, 1966.
He got here to this conclusion after turning again the clock and working the thing’s orbit backwards utilizing a pc mannequin to work out its previous trajectory by house.
Chodas discovered that the thing had already handed comparatively near Earth a number of occasions over the previous a long time, together with one second that indicated it may have really launched from Earth, in keeping with NASA.
“One of many attainable paths for 2020 SO introduced the thing very near Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” Chodas mentioned in a press release. “It was like a eureka second when a fast test of launch dates for lunar missions confirmed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”
The article’s low relative velocity and orbital airplane additionally supported the argument that the thing was probably not of pure origin.
2020 SO was captured by Earth’s gravity on November 8, and calculations present it can stay in orbit round our planet as a brief satellite tv for pc till March 2021 earlier than it escapes again into a brand new orbit across the solar.
As 2020 SO approaches the Earth, astronomers will observe the thing as a way to decide whether or not or not it’s really a bit of house junk from the Nineteen Sixties.