New minimoons created by small objects rotate around Earth, in the orbit for a short period. Minimoon often orbits around the planet for few months or so, years before flinging back into space. Now a new mysterious object is heading towards Earth, which will get trapped in our orbit to become a new minimoon.
These minimoons detected earlier are mainly asteroids, but only two have been confirmed. 2006 RH120 orbit around the Earth between 2006 and 2007. Another minimoon is 2020 CD3 visited orbit from 2018 to 2020.
The new minimoon entering the Earth’s orbit is officially classified as an asteroid named 2020 SO. However, scientists claim to have enough evidence that the object may not be an asteroid but human-made space garbage heading towards the planet to enter the orbit.
The new minimoon 2020 SO
Astronomers have found that the new object incoming towards the Earth can be captured by the gravity. Projections show that the object will arrive near to the planet in the coming month, October 2020. Once it enters the orbit, the object will hang around until May of 2021, then it will depart elsewhere.
“Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 – May 2021. The current nominal trajectory shows capture through L2, and escape through L1. Highly-chaotic path, so is prepared for lots of revisions as new observations come in,” said Tony Dunn in his tweet.
As the simulation shows above, the object heading towards Earth will enter and leave through two Lagrange points. These gravitationally stable points are created by Earth’s gravitational interaction with the sun.
The asteroid is not an actual asteroid seen in space as its characteristics suggest it to be something human-made. The object is Earth-like orbit and traveling at a slow velocity supports the claims of it to be space debris.
Officially, 2020 SO has been classified as an Apollo asteroid. It is recognised by the JPL Small-Body Database- a class of asteroids, who cross Earth’s orbit. Asteroids under the JPL Small-Body often encounter Earth. However, there are enough clues to prove it not to be a natural asteroid.
“The velocity seems to be a big one. What I’m seeing is that it’s just moving too slowly, which reflects its initial velocity. That’s essentially a big giveaway.” said space archaeologist Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Australia to ScienceAlert.
Surveyor 2 to the Moon
“Asteroid 2020SO is suspected of being the Surveyor 2 centaur rocket booster, launched on 20 September 1966. The Earth-like orbit and low relative velocity suggest a possible man-made object,” tweeted Kevin Heider an expert on asteroids.
In the 21st century, reusable rockets are seen as a solution for space debris. Earlier multi-stage rocket was launched, whose parts are destined to fall apart. The booster stage of a rocket falls back on Earth, but the rest is discarded in space once their work is done.
These discarded stages have led to the creation of space debris. Leftover parts in space often orbit around the Earth and in some cases fall on the surface while the majority of them continue to orbit at high velocity and pose a threat to satellites orbiting the planet.
“You have to keep tracking these things, or you can just sort of losing sight of them easily. And if they do something a little bit unpredictable, and you look the wrong way, then you don’t know where it’s gone. It is quite astonishing, the number of things that have gone missing,” said Paul Chodas to ScienceAlert.