“I’m very upset about this,” Paul Chodas told The Associated Press. “It was my hobby to find one of these and draw such a link, and I’ve been doing it for decades.” Chodas speculates that the asteroid 2020 SO, as it is officially known, is actually the stage of the overhead Centaur rocket that successfully propelled NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander to the moon in 1966 before it was scrapped.
The lander ended up colliding with the moon after one of its thrusters failed to ignite on the way there. Meanwhile, the rocket traversed the moon and orbited the sun as intended, never to be seen again – perhaps until now.
The body is estimated to be approximately 8 meters, based on its brightness. This is in the old Centaur Stadium, which will be less than 10 meters long including the engine nozzle and 3 meters in diameter.
What caught Chodas’ attention is that its semi-circular orbit around the sun is quite similar to Earth’s – which is unusual for an asteroid.
The object is also at the same ground level, not tilted up or down, another red flag. Asteroids usually move at strange angles. Finally, it is approaching Earth at 2,400 km / h, slowly by the standards of asteroids.
As the object approaches, astronomers should be able to better plan its orbit and determine how much it is being pushed by the radiation and thermal effects of sunlight. If it were an ancient centaur – essentially a light empty can – it would move differently from a heavy space rock, which is less susceptible to outside forces.
Chodas expects the object to spend about four months orbiting the Earth once it is captured in mid-November, before returning to its orbit around the sun next March.
He suspects the object will hit the ground – “at least not this time.”
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