Fake Asteroid Turns Out to Be a Remnant of a Failed Launch

There were three red flags that scientists picked out.
Utku Kucukduner

Last month, an asteroid was spotted by NASA's Hawaii telescope but scientists are convinced that the asteroid is a piece of man-made space junk.

The celestial object named "asteroid 2020 SO" is expected to get into Earth's gravity field somewhere around November. It will likely circle the Earth for about four months before being slingshot into its own orbit around the sun in March.

Paul Chodas, the manager of the NASA Near Earth Objects (NEO) Program Office at JPL has expressed to AP that he's "pretty jazzed" about the matter and stated that it's been a hobby of his to find such objects and draw such links for decades.


The celestial body was discovered while folks at Hawaii were doing their regular doomsday asteroid scan. The object is roughly 26 ft in diameter (8 mt). The first thing that drew suspicion over the object was its orbit, it was quite similar to Earth's. Chodas remarks that it was the "flag number one." What's more, the object was also in the same plane as Earth, asteroids typically pass us by at odd angles. Flag number two.

The final giveaway was its speed — it is traveling towards the earth at 1,500 mph (2400 km/h). This is considered quite slow by asteroid standards, as they can go at 89,000 mph or 40 kilometers per second.

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Astronomers will have a clearer idea of its orbit and how much push it takes from thermal and radiation effects of sunlight. Essentially this will be a quite helpful diagnostic — heavy and dense asteroids behave differently than empty metal cans towards these effects.

The celestial object is assumed to be an old rocket from a failed 1966 moon landing mission for now according to Paul Chodas. He believes it is the Centaur upper rocket stage which propelled NASA's Surveyor 2 lander towards the moon.

The lander crashed into the moon due to a thruster malfunction keeping it from igniting properly. The rocket was detached before the crash and swept past the moon, it was never intended to be seen or heard from. But, yes, we have a growing space junk problem on our hands folks.

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