“The object about to pass Earth only 31,605 miles away on December 1, 2020,
is likely not an asteroid; it’s probably the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the moon in 1966.”
— NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, November 30, 2020
November 30, 2020 Albuquerque, New Mexico – Earth has captured gravitationally a tiny object between 15 and 33 feet in diameter that was first thought to be an asteroid. The object, dubbed 2020 SO by astronomers, will come “extremely close” within 31,605 miles of our planet at 3:50 a.m. ET on December 1, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. It was first seen by the Pan-STARRS survey based in Maui, Hawaii, on September 17, 2020.
But when Paul Chodas, Director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, first saw the mystery object’s orbit, he “turned back the clock” and ran the object’s orbit backward to determine where it had been in the past.
NASA reports that Chodas found that the object had already passed relatively close to Earth several times over the past decades, including one moment that indicated it could have actually launched from Earth.
“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966. It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”
2020 SO was captured by Earth’s gravity on November 8, 2020, and calculations show it will remain in orbit around our planet as a temporary satellite until March 2021 before it escapes back into a new orbit around the sun.
“Small Asteroid Is Earth’s Constant Companion,” June 15, 2016, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California:
NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO):
Int’l. Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center, “the nerve center of asteroid detection in the Solar System”: http://minorplanetcenter.net
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