An object called 2020 SO is about to briefly become a “mini-moon,” captured by Earth’s orbit. There’s a chance, however, that the object in question may actually be a piece of space junk leftover from a mission that launched more than 50 years ago. This isn’t the first time Earth has captured a mini-moon, nor is it the first time we’ve mistaken space junk for an asteroid.
A strange object is hurtling toward Earth and, according to estimations of its trajectory, it will briefly become a mini-moon.
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Earth has captured mini-moons before, so this new one, 2020 SO, wouldn’t be the first of our moon’s tiny companions. But there’s something strange about it: Astronomers believe the object may actually be a piece of human-made space junk that’s, well, returning home.
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Some scientists think the object may be what’s left of a mission that launched for the moon more than 50 years ago. NASA’s Surveyor 2 spacecraft launched atop an Atlas LV-3C Centaur-D on September 20, 1966. Unfortunately, NASA lost contact with the craft three days later when a thruster failed to start, sending the mission on a tailspin into the lunar surface.
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The working theory is that 2020 SO may actually be the Centaur stage of the United Launch Alliance rocket that propelled Surveyor 2 out of Earth’s orbit. The object’s size, which researchers have determined to be roughly between 21 and 46 feet long, is a relatively close match
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