An unidentified object is hurtling towards Earth, and NASA is not quite sure what it is. Astronomers are calling the object 2020 SO.
According to Newsweek, the space object sailed past Earth at a safe but extremely close distance in the early hours of Dec. 1. The unidentified object passed just 31,605 miles away from Earth at 3:50 a.m. ET. Astronomer Gianluca Masi said that’s a distance equal to 13% distance between Earth and the moon.
Astronomers are currently stumped on the nature of the object’s origins or whether it is an asteroid. The object measured between 15 to 33 feet across. Despite being initially labeled as such, scientists soon began to expect it wasn’t an asteroid at all.
“We are not sure it is an asteroid—that is, a natural body,” Masi wrote on the Virtual Telescope Project website.
Pan-STARRS survey, in Maui, Hawaii, first discovered the object back in September. Two days later, Minor Planet Center confirmed the existence of the object. They are responsible for labeling minor bodies in our solar system.
The Unidentified Object May Be Man-Made in Origin
Astronomer Paul Chodas has a hypothesis for what the unidentified object may be. He suspects the object may be the Centaur rocket booster from NASA’s failed Surveyor 2 lunar mission. That attempted mission to the moon happened way back in September 1966.
Chodas used a computer model to chart the object’s past trajectory in outer space. He concluded that the object has actually brushed past Earth several times over the past few decades. One instance suggests the object may have launched from Earth itself.
“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” Chodas said in a statement. “It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”
Currently, the object has entered Earth’s gravity and will remain in orbit around our planet for the next several months. According to calculations, the object will escape Earth’s gravity sometime in March 2021.