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Astronomy

Mysterious Object Not An Asteroid, but An Ancient Rocket

This photograph from September 20, 1966 shows an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. (Convair / General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection / San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Astronomers have temporarily confirmed that a mysterious body orbiting Earth was not an asteroid but a 54-year-old rocket. .

Observations made with a telescope in Hawaii confirmed the identity of the object, according to NASA.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But Paul Chodas, one of NASA’s top asteroid experts, suspected this was a Centaur top rocket stage from the Moon landing mission Surveyor 2 , which failed in 1966. Size estimates also put the object in the same range as the old Centaur, which was about 10 meters long and 3 meters in diameter.

In this photo from 13 August 1965, technicians are working on an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket at Cape Canaveral. (Convair / General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection / San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona has not only created this mysterious object but since 1971. Chodas was right when he used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe a Centaur still orbiting the Earth. The data in the images match.

One of the strangeness of the object was its almost circular orbit around the Sun, quite similar to that of the Earth. This is quite unusual for an asteroid.

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Moreover, it is not on a plane tilted up or down, but on the same plane as the Earth. This is another warning sign. Asteroids usually pass at odd angles. Finally, the object was approaching the Earth at a low speed, at 2400 kilometers per hour, according to asteroid standards.

The object, officially known as the 2020 SO, entered a large, disproportionate orbit around Earth last month and made its closest pass at 50,476 kilometers on Tuesday. The object will go back to its own orbit around the Sun, which will leave this region in March. It will come back in 2036.

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