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Asteroid Heading Towards Earth Now Believed To Be Space Junk From 1966 Failed Moon Landing

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Asteroid Heading Towards Earth Now Believed To Be Space Junk From 1966 Failed Moon Landing

A mysterious object spotted in space and initially thought to be an asteroid might actually be part of a NASA rocket from a mission 54 years ago.

The newly discovered 26ft-long (8m) object, which was spotted by a telescope in Hawaii, was at first believed to be an asteroid and named 'asteroid 2020 SO', but now experts reckon it could be part of a Centaur rocket that successfully propelled NASA's America's Surveyor 2 lander to the moon in 1966.

The lander ended up crashing into the moon, due to one of its igniters failing. The rocket, having done its part, flew past the moon and into orbit around the sun - and was considered space junk.

But now it seems as though it might be making a second appearance.

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How an asteroid might usually look. Credit: NASA
How an asteroid might usually look. Credit: NASA

NASA asteroid expert Paul Chodas told PA: "I'm pretty jazzed about this.

"It's been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link, and I've been doing it for decades now.

"I could be wrong on this. I don't want to appear overly confident.

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"But it's the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch."

The object is travelling at 1,500mph, which is actually considered slow by usual asteroid standards, one of the reasons Chodas believes it's not an asteroid after all.

Pointing out the 'flags' that led to his conclusion, Chodas explained that the object has an unusual near-circular orbit, which is quite similar to Earth's but less common in asteroids.

He went on to say that the object is in the same plane as Earth, which, again, is unusual as asteroids usually fly past at weird angles.

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Centaur rocket in 1966. Credit: NASA
Centaur rocket in 1966. Credit: NASA

As it gets closer to Earth astronomers will be able to get a better look at its orbit and have a clearer picture of what it is.

Chodas believes it will spend around four months circling Earth's orbit, before shooting out into its own orbit next spring.

Oh, and in case you were worried, the NASA expert added that he doesn't think it will slam into Earth, so that's good news.

Topics: Interesting, Nasa, space

Claire Reid
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