CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Jig may be ready for an “asteroid” to be captured by Earth’s gravity and turn into a small moon next month.
Instead of a cosmic rock, the newly discovered object looks like an old rocket from a failed lunar-landing mission 54 years ago, which is finally returning home, says NASA’s leading asteroid. Observations can help explain its identity.
“I’m very surprised about this,” Paul Chodas told the Associated Press. “Finding one of these and drawing such a link has been a hobby of mine, and I’m been doing this for decades now.”
Chodas speculates that the asteroid 2020SO, as it is officially known, is actually the Centaur Upper Rocket Phase, which successfully launched NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander to the moon in 1966. The lander crashed into the moon after failing to ignite on the way there. Meanwhile, the rocket overtook the moon and moved into orbit around the sun, as intended junk, never to be seen again – perhaps until now.
Last month, a Hawaiian telescope discovered the Nigu object in our path during a search to protect our planet from the Domday rocks. According to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, the number of asteroids and comets found in our solar system is only 5,000 million marks.
Based on the brightness of the object, it is estimated to be about 26 feet (8 m). It is located in the ballpark of the old Centaur and is 32 feet (10 m) long, including its engine nozzle and 10 feet (3 m) in diameter.
Chodas drew attention to the fact that the circular orbit around the Sun is similar to that of the Earth – unusual for an asteroid.
“Flag Number One,” said Chodas, director of the Center for Earth-Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
An object that does not tilt up or down another red flag is at the same level as the Earth. Asteroids usually zip at single angles. Finally, it approaches Earth at a speed of 1,500 miles (2,400 km / h) and is slow at asteroid levels.
As the object approaches, astronomers should be able to better chart its orbit and determine how much radiation and heat from the sun it emits. If it were an old centaur – basically in a light empty can – it would move differently than a heavy space rock.
Astronomers usually differentiate between asteroids and space junk like abandoned rocket parts because they are both seen as moving dots in the sky. There may be dozens of fake asteroids out there, but their movements are inaccurate or their artificial identities cannot be confirmed, Chodas said.
Sometimes this is the other way around.
For example, a 1991 Nigu object, determined by Chodas et al., Is more of an ordinary asteroid than a debris, although its orbit around the Sun is similar to that of the Earth.
More interestingly, Chodas discovered in 1969 the second satellite to be landed by NASA astronauts since the Apon 12 of 1969. He acknowledges that the evidence is relevant when considering a year’s orbit around the earth. It was never considered an asteroid and was ejected from Earth’s orbit in 2003.
The way of the latest object is more direct and more consistent, which strengthens his theory.
“I may be wrong about this. I don’t want to appear overconfident, “said Chodas. “But this is the first time, in my view, that all the fragments fit into an actual launch known.”
He is delighted that this is a mission he pursued in 1966 as a Cager Marker in Canada.
Carrie Nugent, an asteroid hunter at the Olin College of Engineering in Needam, Massachusetts, said Chodas’ conclusion was “good” based on solid evidence. He is the author of the 2017 book Asteroid Hunters.
“A little more data will be useful so we can know for sure,” she said in an email. “Asteroids around the world will continue to look at this object to obtain that data. I’m so glad to see how it develops! ”
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics commented that “there have been a number of embarrassing events in deep orbit that have been given temporary asteroid status for a few days before they are discovered to be artificial.”
This is very rare.
Last year, British amateur astronomer Nick Howes announced that an asteroid in solar orbit was NASA’s abandoned lunar module from Apollo 10, a rehearsal for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Although this property may be artificial, Chodas and others are skeptical about the connection.
Doubt is good, Howes wrote in an email. “By the end of the 2030s, we hope this will lead to more observations as it nears our necks.”
In 1984 and 2002, Chodas’ most recent goal was to land in the lap around the sun. But he said it was too dim to be seen from a distance of 5 million miles (8 million kilometers).
He predicts that the object will orbit for about four months if it is captured by Earth in mid-November, before returning to its own orbit around the sun next March.
Chodas suspects the object will fall to Earth – “at least this time.”
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