MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Scientists announced that Earth’s “second moon” will approach the planet this week, before it drifts away into space and will not be seen again.
Astronomers unofficially called the “second moon of the planet” the mysterious object 2020 SO, which is a small object that fell into Earth’s orbit about halfway between our planet and the moon in September 2020.
Temporary satellites like these are known as minimoons, although calling them the moon is a bit tricky in this case, as in December 2020, NASA researchers learned that the object is not a space rock at all, but rather the remnants of a boosted rocket in the 1960s Share On the US Surveyor moon missions.
This “little moon” took its closest approach to Earth on December 1 (the day before NASA identified it as its long-lost support), but it returns in another cycle.
According to EarthSky.org, the 2020 SO will finally approach Earth on Tuesday February 2, 140,000 miles (220,000 km) from Earth, or 58 percent of the way between the Earth and the Moon.
The boost is expected to drift away after that, leaving Earth’s orbit entirely by March 2021, according to EarthSky. After that, the “little moon” will be just another object orbiting the sun.
The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will host the final farewell to the “Second Moon of Earth” on its website starting on the night of February 1, for all interested star-watchers and astronomy enthusiasts.
NEO object 2020 SO has been captured by Earth’s gravity and on Feb 2, 2021 will fly at 0.59 LD (226,000 km). The temporary Earth’s mini-moon (actually the upper stage of the 1966 failed Surveyor 2 mission) will say goodbye to get to an heliocentric orbit https://t.co/1BxYHLT6Mupic.twitter.com/XLr8ta1Yrm
– Massimo (@ Rainmaker1973) January 30, 2021
NASA knew that the object had approached Earth several times over decades, until it came relatively close in 1966, the year the agency launched its lunar probe, Surveyor 2, on the back of the enhanced Centaur rocket.
This gave scientists the first significant evidence that 2020 SO was man-made, and they confirmed this after comparing the body’s chemical composition with another missile component, which has been in orbit since 1971.
Source: Live Science