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Is 2020SO Space Junk or an Asteroid?

 

2020 SO is a tiny near-Earth asteroid or artificial object discovered by the Pan-STARRS1 survey at the  Haleakala Observatory on September 17, 2020.

It is currently approaching Earth and its nominal trajectory indicates that it will be temporarily captured by Earth by  October 15, 2020.

It will enter via the outer Lagrange point L2 and exit via Lagrange point L1.

During its geocentric orbit around Earth, 2020 SO will make a close approach to Earth around December 1, 2020 at a nominal perigee distance of approximately 0.13 LD (50,000 km; 31,000 mi).

It will also make another close approach around February 2021, at a nominal perigee distance of approximately 0.58 Lunar Distance 140,000 miles.

2020 SO has some features that set it apart from ordinary asteroids. According to NASA/JPL calculations, the object will soon pass by Earth’s moon at a speed of 1,880 miles per hour or .5 miles per second.

 

That is an extremely slow speed for an asteroid.

Paul Chodas of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory suspects 2020 SO of being the Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster, launched on  September 20,1966.

The Earth-like orbit and low relative velocity suggest a possible artificial object. Spectroscopy may help determine if it is covered in titanium dioxide paint.

Around the time of closest approach on 1 December 2020, the object will only brighten to about apparent magnitude 14.1, and will require a telescope with roughly a 150mm objective lens to be seen visually.

At the time of its discovery, 2020 SO had unremarkable motion typical of a main-belt asteroid.

However, the four observations that Pan-STARRS obtained over the course of 1.4 hours showed non-linear motion due to the rotation of the observer around Earth’s axis, which is a signature of a nearby object.

 

Video Image Credit:

Storyblocks

By Tony873004 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94279688

By Tony873004 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94279687

By dronepicr – Haleakala Observatory Maui, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74172634

For more information

https://earthsky.org/space/2020-so-mini-moon-asteroid-or-space-junk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_SO

 

Source: Wikipedia/ Earth-Sky

 

TNC Science

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