NASA reveals that Earth’s 2020 “ mini-moon ” is definitely just space junk


This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur rocket in the upper stage. The 2020 SO space object is one of them.


Welcome back, Surveyor 2 Centaur Missile Booster. We have just received a new chapter in a bittersweet space saga that features a fiery launch, a doomed moon mission and decades of wandering through space.

A NASA rocket used to launch the Surveyor 2 lunar lander in 1966 returned to us for a temporary rotation like a mini-moon orbiting the Earth. When scientists discovered it in September, they called it 2020 SO. On Wednesday, NASA announced that the strange object has been positively identified as the 1960s booster.

While the booster did its job admirably in 1966, the lander did not survive a crash landing on the lunar surface.

The specific orbit of the booster around the sun warned astronomers that it probably wasn’t an asteroid, one of the many space rocks whizzing through our cosmic neighborhood. Investigators tracked the repeater near Earth in 1966.

Observations from the telescope have now revealed the composition of the 2020 SO stainless steel. This cosmic investigative work involved comparing the spectrum data on the enigmatic object with data collected on a well-known Centaur rocker wheel floating in space since 1971. It was a match.

The object has attracted a lot of interest due to the mystery surrounding it and the fact that it has been caught in an Earth orbit which makes it a lovely visiting mini-moon. The The Virtual Telescope project was live streamed in 2020 SO when it came close to Earth on November 30th.

The Centaur booster will stay with us for a few months, but is expected to continue its space adventures back in orbit around the sun in March 2021. At that point we can all say, “Goodnight, Centaur. Goodnight, mini-moon.”

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