Earth may soon gain a piece of man-made space junk as a temporary 'mini-moon'

Object could be 54-year-old rocket booster from surveyor spacecraft

Updated: September 26, 2020 - 12:01pm

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An astronomical object headed for a possible temporary orbit around Earth might be a long-discarded rocket booster from a NASA spacecraft launched over five decades ago. 

Object 2020 SO, presently headed on a trajectory near our planet, may be captured by Earth's gravity in October and orbit the planet until May of next year, scientists say. 

Though most near-Earth objects like 2020 SO are natural in origin, astronomers believe that this one may in fact be man-made, specifically a rocket from the Surveyor 2 lunar probe launched by NASA in 1966. 

Paul Chodas, the director of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told CNN that 2020 SO was likely "an old rocket booster" due to its "following an orbit about the sun that is extremely similar to Earth's, nearly circular, in the same plane, and only slightly farther away [from] the sun at its farthest point."

The object was first spotted on Aug. 19. 

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