Earth’s new ‘mini-moon’ is probably just space junk from old NASA mission

Does Earth have its second mini-moon discovery in 2020? Unlikely.


Earth has one enormous moon looming overhead and also you would possibly assume “that is sufficient moons” for us. However typically, wandering asteroids get somewhat too near the planet and the Earth will get grasping. It is gravitational pull captures the area rocks and retains them inside its orbit — amassing the cosmic marbles for months of years at a time.

The transient visitations by these “mini-moons” are pretty uncommon, with solely two asteroids confirmed to this point. The newest got here on Feb. 15, when tiny rock 2020 CD3 was discovered by astronomers on the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey. The glorious mini-moon had been ensnared by the Earth’s gravity as early as 2015 and stayed with us till Might 2020 earlier than dashing off into the cosmos once more. 

However within the unprecedented 12 months of 2020, astronomers have introduced the detection of one other potential mini-moon: 2020 SO. 

Besides this one is not appearing in any respect like a small asteroid would. Our mini-moon isn’t any moon in any respect. It is shifting far too slowly for it to be rock ejected from a cosmic physique. Due to this fact, astronomers cause, it is most likely simply area junk left over from the early days of the Area Race.

The present principle, proposed by astronomers and skywatchers because the object was first detected, holds that 2020 SO is the rocket physique from an Atlas Centaur-D rocket initially launched in 1966. That rocket lifted off Sept. 20 carrying the Surveyor 2 lunar lander to the moon. The scale and the orbit of 2020 SO, published by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, appear to align neatly with the Centaur physique. 

On Sunday, NASA’s Paul Chodas, director of the Heart for Close to-Earth Object Research, told the Associated Press that the near-circular orbit across the solar is somewhat too just like Earth’s for it to be a bit of rock.  

The item was grabbed by Earth in October and could have its closest strategy on Dec. 1, attending to inside round 31,000 miles of the planet. Astronomers ought to have the ability to get a more in-depth take a look at the thing then, assessing its form and the sort of mild its emitting to supply a definitive reply.

If it’s the Centaur stage — whether it is junk — it is nonetheless attention-grabbing junk. It has been out, wandering the photo voltaic system for over 5 many years. We would have the ability to be taught somewhat concerning the results of area on our outdated rocket our bodies. And whereas it is not going to trigger any issues for Earthlings, so far as we are able to inform, it does function a well timed reminder of the space junk issue.  

Since we first started launching rockets and satellites into orbit, we have been polluting area round our planet. Not every little thing that goes up instantly comes down. There are millions of items of area junk, defunct satellites and tiny chunks of rubbish, circling the Earth at nice speeds. A collision with a chunk of junk could possibly be devastating, blowing a gap proper by a rocket or satellite tv for pc. Extra launches imply extra junk and extra junk poses a a lot larger danger to spaceflight, satellites and our need to occupy area.

You do not even need to look again various weeks to see how potential points area particles poses. On Sept. 23, the International Space Station had to make a “maneuver burn” to keep away from an unknown piece of cosmic trash hurtling towards it. 

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Jackson Ryan