True Space Weirdness: The ‘asteroid’ pushed toward Earth could be a piece of a rocket that was discarded during an attempt to land on the moon’s surface in 1966
- The telescope detected “asteroid 2020 SO” as it was heading towards Earth last month
- Scientists now believe the body is part of an Atlas Centaur 7 missile from 1966
- NASA’s Surveyor 2 rocket propelled into the moon before it entered orbit
As any schoolboy will be able to tell you, what goes up should go down – but it doesn’t usually take 54.
In 1966, the NASA team behind the attempted moon landing believed that they would never see their rocket again after it drifted into the sun’s orbit.
Now, however, it appears to be plunging back toward Earth at 1,500 mph.
A telescope in Hawaii discovered the mysterious object last month. It is estimated to be around 26 feet long – approximately bus length.
A bus-sized object was identified pushing toward Earth last month and is thought to be an asteroid that could actually be part of the upper stage of the Atlas Centaur 7 rocket (pictured at the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida) that propelled NASA’s Surveyor 2 to the moon in 1966.
It was initially thought to be an asteroid and named ‘asteroid 2020 SO’, but it is now believed to be part of the Centaur rocket that propelled the US lander Surveyor 2 to the moon 54 years ago.
After launching its payload, the rocket passed the moon and entered orbit around the sun.
Meanwhile, the moon lander ended up having failed to ignite.
After launching its payload, the rocket passed the moon and entered orbit around the sun
“I’m very upset about this,” said NASA asteroid expert Paul Chodas.
It has been my hobby to find one of these and draw such a link, and I’ve been doing this for decades.
‘I could be wrong about this. I don’t want to appear too confident.
But this is the first time, in my view, that all pieces fit into an actual known launch.
The object has a near-circular orbit around the sun, which is unusual for an asteroid, said Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
It’s also at ground level, not tilted up or down, and approaching at 1,500 mph – slowly by the standards of an asteroid.
It is expected to spend four months orbiting the Earth’s orbit from mid-November.
And then it will go into orbit around the sun next March.
Chodas said he doubted the body would hit the ground, adding: “At least, not this time.”