It turns out the asteroid that was discovered in September is a 54-year-old rocket.
After its discovery, Paul Chodas, NASA’s top asteroid expert, suspected it to be the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2. Surveyor 2 is a 1966 failed moon landing mission. The unknown object’s size estimates were about 31 feet long and 10 feet in diameter, pretty close to that of the old Centaur.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the rocket’s identity was confirmed by a team led by Vishnu Reddy from the University of Arizona using an infrared telescope in Hawaii.
Previously referred to as 2020 SO, last month, the rocket entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth and, on 1st December, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles. It is expected to return in 2036 for another close approach.
“Today’s news was super gratifying! It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle,” Chodas said via email.
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