A real space curiosity: An asteroid hurtling towards Earth could be a piece of rocket junk from 1966

A real space curiosity: "Asteroid" hurtling towards Earth is possibly a rocket that was dropped in an attempted moon landing in 1966

  • A telescope discovered last month that the asteroid was hurtling towards Earth in 2020 SE
  • Now scientists believe the object is part of a 1966 Atlas Centaur 7 rocket
  • The rocket propelled NASA's Surveyor 2 to the moon before going into orbit

As any student can tell you, what goes up has to come down – but it usually doesn't take 54 years.

As early as 1966, the NASA team behind an attempted moon landing thought that they would never see their rocket again after it was thrown into orbit the sun.

Now, however, it appears to be racing back to Earth at 1,500 mph.

A telescope in Hawaii discovered the mysterious object last month. It's an estimated 26 feet long – about the length of a bus.

An object the size of the bus that sped towards Earth last month and was considered an asteroid could actually be part of the Atlas Centaur 7 upper rocket stage (pictured on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida) that NASA Surveyor 2 was used to Moon drifted in 1966

It was originally thought of as an asteroid and was named "Asteroid 2020 SO". It is now believed to be part of a Centaur rocket that propelled the American Lander Surveyor 2 to the moon 54 years ago.

After the rocket released its payload, it swept past the moon and orbited the sun.

The lander, meanwhile, crashed into the moon after one of its engines failed to ignite.

After the rocket released its payload, it swept past the moon and orbited the sun

After the rocket released its payload, it swept past the moon and orbited the sun

NASA asteroid expert Paul Chodas said, "I'm pretty excited about this.

"It was a hobby of mine to find one of these and make that connection, and I've been doing it for decades.

“I could be wrong. I don't want to appear overly confident.

"But in my opinion it is the first time that all parts fit into an actually known start."

Mr. Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said the object has a near-circular orbit around the sun, which is unusual for an asteroid.

It's also in the same plane as the Earth, not sloping above or below the Earth, and is approaching at 1,500 miles per hour – slowly by asteroid standards.

He predicts that it will orbit four months from mid-November.

It will then shoot into its own orbit around the sun next March.

Mr. Chodas said he doubted the object would fall to earth, adding, "At least not this time."


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