16:40 GMT19 October 2020
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    In September, a newly “potentially hazardous” object was discovered by astronomers, who added it to the list of solar system’s asteroids compiled by International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. However, not everyone believes that the rock, which was dubbed 2020 SO, is actually what it pretends to be.

    NASA’s leading expert Paul Chodas suggested that the newly discovered asteroid 2020 SO is actually a part of rocket that was sent to the moon in 1966 and has been orbiting the Sun since then.

    “I could be wrong on this. I don't want to appear overly confident,” Chodas, who is director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, was quoted as saying by AP.

    “But it's the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch”.

    According to the official, who said that he has been “pretty jazzled” about this discovery, the object could be the Centaur upper rocket stage that was set to deliver Surveyor 2 lander to the moon 54 years ago. The rocket managed the task and then flew pass the moon into the Sun’s orbit; however the lander itself eventually crashed into a satellite due to a failed thruster.

    “It's been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link, and I've been doing it for decades now,” Chodas revealed.

    2020 SO was discovered by the Hawaii’ telescope in September and has now been added to the list of Earth’s potential close approaches. The object, measured between 5 to 12 metres in diameter, is expected to pass close to our planet on 1 December 2020 at a speed of nearly 4-kilometres-per-second.

    According to Chodas, its shape, size and near-circular orbit, which is quite similar to that of Earth’s, can all suggest that it is indeed the old Centaur, which no one had expected to see again.

    Astronomers now suggest that when the object will get closer to the Earth once captured by its orbit in mid-November, it will then become clear whether it has an artificial origin as suggested by Chodas or his hypothesis has turned out to be erroneous in the end.  

    Tags:
    rocket, Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), asteroid, NASA
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