NASA decodes the mysterious object that flew past Earth earlier this week
On Tuesday, a mysterious object flew past Earth coming within 32,000 miles of the planet. After trying to decode the mysterious object, scientists finally identified it.
On Wednesday, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that the object, formerly known as 2020 SO, was the booster of a Centaur rocket that was launched in 1966.
The rocket, which was set to land on the moon, carried the Surveyor 2 mission but went into a death spiral when one of its thrusters failed to fire with the others.
Surveyor 2 crashed into the lunar surface, but the rocket booster had separated from the spacecraft shortly after pushing it towards its lunar destination. The booster then drifted away into the abyss of vast space.
Recently the Earth's gravity briefly captured the rocket booster once again and it will loop Earth twice before escaping the planet's pull in March 2021, according to NASA's press release. After that, the booster will go on a new orbit around the sun.
The object was first spotted by a telescope on the Hawaiian island Maui in September. The unidentified object's orbit seemed unnatural, following unusually close to Earth and remaining within the same plane as the planet. This characteristic was unlike most asteroids, which have tilted orbits, dipping above or below Earth as they journey around the sun.
NASA's statement said that after a deeper analysis of 2020 SO’s orbit, it was revealed that the object had come close to Earth a few times over the decades, with one approach in 1966 bringing it close enough to suggest it may have originated from Earth.
After the data was compared with the history of previous NASA missions, Paul Chodas, Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) director, concluded 2020 SO could be the Centaur upper stage rocket booster from NASA’s 1966 Surveyor 2 mission to the Moon.