Mini Moon

Ponder this image – Earth is the blue dot, white circle is the Moon’s orbit, red squiggle is space object 2020 SO. Using the Pan-STARRS1 telescope in Maui, Hawaii astronomers sighted the object September 17, 2020 on approach to Earth, classifying it as an asteroid.

Graphic showing swooping and swirling incoming path of 2020 SO.

From -“Asteroid or space junk? Strange space object 2020 SO was discovered on September 17, 2020 on approach to Earth. It’ll likely be captured by Earth, briefly becoming a mini-moon. In this image, the Earth is the blue dot in the center. The moon’s orbit is the white circle. Image via Tony Dunn (@tony873004 on Twitter”

From October 2020 until May 2021 approaching space object 2020 SO will briefly become a “mini” Earth orbiting Moon, courtesy low speed and trajectory being no match for Earth’s gravitational pull. Measuring 6 – 14 meters, 2020 SO will soon pass between Earth and the Moon at a speed of 3,025 km/h – in cosmic terms that’s remarkably slow. Slow enough to raise eyebrows when coupled with calculation of a 387 day Earth-like orbit of the Sun. Peculiarities suggesting a man made object launched from our planet.

Astronomers suspect asteroid 2020 SO could be the Surveyor 2 rocket booster launched on September 20, 1966. Surveyor 2 was a un-manned mission sending a second lunar lander to the Moon. Surveyor 2 left Cape Kennedy, Florida atop a Atlas Centaur rocket. Three days later a course correction failure caused mission control to lose contact. Unable to recover, Surveyor 2 lander crashed near the Moon’s Copernicus Crater.

Before the modern era of reusable rockets losing sight of one wasn’t unusual. Space archeologist Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Australia said –

“There are so many factors in the space environment, like gravitational factors and other things that affect movement, that it can sometimes be quite unpredictable.

You have to keep tracking these things, or you can just sort of lose sight of them really easily. And if they do something a little bit unpredictable, and you look the wrong way, then you don’t know where it’s gone. It is quite astonishing, the number of things that have gone missing.”

220px-Surveyor_2_launch.jpg (220×283)
Surveyor 2 launch September 20, 1966

Space is a busy place chock full of small asteroids and man made junk. Gravity isn’t shy about capturing temporary mini moons. Most recently – 2006 RH120 caught in Earth orbit between 2006 – 2007 and 2020 CD3, 2018 – 2020. Time will tell whether 2020 SO is asteroid or space junk. I’m hoping for space junk. Strikes me as very satisfying to welcome a mini moon launched in 1966.