Another Moon?

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).

The astronomical world never ceases to amaze me.

You may have heard about another pending near miss of Earth from an asteroid. Except it might not be an asteroid.

Astronomers have identified an approaching “space object” — with the catchy name 2020 SO — heading toward Earth. But this one will not go whizzing by. It’s slow, so slow that it is probably an old rocket booster we launched sometime in the past. The top candidate is the Centaur booster used to launch the Surveyor 2 probe on 20 September, 1966.

Also, its slow speed means it will probably be captured by Earth’s gravity and made our satellite, at least temporarily. Current calculations (don’t ask me to explain, I was never that good at math) predict it will orbit Earth  from October of this year until sometime around May 2021. Until now, it has been orbiting the sun every 387 days.

So for awhile, we could have a second moon, albeit a very small one, and one of our own making.

Taken from “Asteroid or space junk? Approaching object might become Earth’s mini-moon” on the EarthSky website (https://earthsky.org/space/2020-so-mini-moon-asteroid-or-space-junk?). The photo came from that site.

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