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How to watch that weird mini moon that might be space junk fly past Earth



This 1964 photo shows a Centaur missile in the top stage. Space object 2020 SO might be one of these.

NASA

Tell the moon not to get jealous. Earth currently has another satellite, but it’s only a temporary throw. The exact identity of the object, called 2020 SO, is still a question, but you can check it out on Monday, November 30, when it gets close to Earth. The Virtual Telescope Project will live stream the flyby.

Earth̵

7;s gravity caught the object in our planet’s orbit earlier this month, making 2020 SO a kind of mini-moon.

Usually we did expect an object like this to be an asteroid, and there are plenty flying around in space. But 2020 SO may have a more earthly identity. 2020 SO’s orbit around the sun – which is very similar to Earth’s – has convinced researchers it’s probably not a rock, but is actually a piece of space junk from a NASA mission.

The object’s closest approach to our planet will take place on December 1. The Virtual Telescope Project is offering a live stream starting Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. PT.

Gianluca Masi, the founder of the Virtual Telescope Project, already managed to capture the small object on November 22. It appears as a dot against a background of stars.

The Virtual Telescope Project caught sight of SO on November 22, 2020. The arrow points to the object.

Gianluca Masi / Virtual Telescope Project

Scientists from NASA JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) analyzed the path of 2020 SO and traced it back in time.

“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” CNEOS Director Paul Chodas said in a NASA statement earlier in November. “It was like a Eureka moment when a quick check of the launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”

NASA’s ill-fated lander Surveyor 2 eventually crashed to the surface of the moon, but the Centaur rocket supercharger escaped into space.

NASA expects SO 2020 to remain in orbit until March 2021, after which it will drift into a new orbit around the sun. The upcoming close-up approach should give astronomers a chance to enter 2020’s composition SO and tell us if it is indeed a holdover from the 1960s.

Even with a telescope view, 2020 SO should look like a bright spot of light traveling against the dark of space. The great thing is that you get the chance to witness a slice of space history that returns to its old stomping grounds.


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