This phenomenon is not strange, although it raises several questions yet to be answered. However, as in the past, next December, the Earth will have a new Moon. It will not be a star like our natural satellite, which has been with us for millions of years, but is a new companion. Yes, an “object” comes towards us, but it will behave differently and is called a mini moon.
Is it an asteroid? It may be, but it doesn’t seem. Is it something extraterrestrial? It also doesn’t have such characteristics, it seems to be something more “mundane”!
Will it be a comet, an asteroid ... will it be an extraterrestrial?
When these objects are detected, the calculations are made at a great speed so that it is possible to understand which way it will be, when passing through our neighborhood. Although it is a phenomenon more or less understood by man, in reality we were only able to confirm two of these mini-moons: 2006 RH120, who visited us in 2006 and 2007; and 2020 CD3, in Earth orbit from 2018 to 2020.
Now, astronomers have detected a new object, called 2020 SO. This eventual star has an entry path that is likely to cause Earth's gravity to "capture" this object from next October until May 2021.
Object that has a chaotic orbit
The accounts that were made, those very fast, led the simulations to show the trajectory of the object. According to professor of physics and astrophysicist Tony Dune, this mini-moon "will have a highly chaotic path". Therefore, your path will have to undergo several revisions while you are near. Nothing is taken for granted.
Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 – May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture through L2, and escape through L1. Highly-chaotic path, so be prepared for lots of revisions as new observations come in. @renerpho @nrco0e https://t.co/h4JaG2rHEd pic.twitter.com/RfUaeLtEWq
— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) September 20, 2020
Isn't an asteroid going too close to Earth?
According to the classification made by NASA, 2020 SO was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid, a class of asteroids whose path crosses Earth's orbit. As we have seen, these bodies frequently surround our planet, but it has some peculiarities specifically: the orbit is similar to Earth and the low speed of 2020 SO suggest that it's not really an asteroid.
In fact, its characteristics, according to experts, are more consistent with something created by man. Objects coming from the Moon also have a slower speed than asteroids, but this object is even slower.
That’s why everything points to that we are facing space junk. Most likely it will be a section of an Atlas-Centaur rocket that launched an experimental cargo called Surveyor 2 to the Moon in September 1966, explained by NASA's JPL astronomer Paul Chodas.
This explanation has some relevance because for decades a kind of rockets with multiple phases (something like "detachable" pieces) were used as the trip progressed. The reinforcement phase returns to Earth and is reused, but the rest remains in space. And there are many of these objects in space, besides that they are very easy to lose by human radar, which would explain that it had not been detected before.
Astronomers bet the chips on what an Atlas-Centaur rocket section looks like
As explained, the estimated size of the 2020 SO object corresponds to the size of one of these Centaur stages from the 1960s. According to NASA's CNEOS database, the object measures between 6.4 and 14 meters in length (a Centaur measures 12.68 meters). In addition, this database says that this object is likely to make two turns close to Earth. On December 1, 2020, it will pass a distance of about 50,000 kilometers. Around February 2, 2021, it will fly 220,000 km.
It is not even close enough to enter the Earth's atmosphere, so the object poses no danger. But these distances, particularly at a slow speed, may be enough to study it more closely and determine what SO 2020 is.