Nugget of Knowledge: Space object approaching Earth

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Astronomers have reason to believe it's actually a piece of space junk leftover from a rocket launch 54 years ago

(WYTV) – This comes to us from the website EarthSky — a mysterious object, now drifting through space, will start to orbit the Earth next month and it’s going to stay in orbit until May 2021.

It may be artificial — not a rock, not a small comet.

Astronomers spotted the object September 17, 2020 using a huge telescope in Hawaii.

It’s called 2020 SO and it’s traveling toward Earth at just 1,800 miles per hour — it’s just poking along.

The low speed combined with its current path means Earth’s gravity will pull it in sometime in October. It will be a new moon of Earth.

What is it? Astronomers have reason to believe it’s actually a piece of space junk leftover from a rocket launch 54 years ago.

The object measures around 20 to 45 feet across, making it a possible match for the 41-foot Atlas Centaur rocket.

On September 20, 1966, NASA sent it toward the moon with a lunar lander. One of its thrusters didn’t ignite. NASA lost track of it and it may have been drifting through the solar system in the years since.

The facts that it’s low speed and drifting close to us around the sun seem to fit.

Is it manmade space debris making a return trip? We’ll know more when astronomers can study the light reflected off of its surface as it gets closer to Earth.

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