Hold onto your telescopes!
A new asteroid, and potential mini-moon, is thrusting through the deep unknown on a collision course for our orbit.
Within the coming weeks, a little moony boi will set up shop circling our planet until some time in May 2021. Some outlets have reported a later entry into our orbit, around December 1st.
Astronomers first spotted the object on September 17th using the Pan-STARRS1 telescope survey at the Haleakala Observatory in Maui, Hawaii.
The asteroid, designated 2020 SO, is travelling towards us at a modest speed of approximately 3025.567km/h. Its low velocity (for an object) means getting caught in our gravity is easy.
By definition, a moon is any natural satellite trapped in a planet's orbit. So our moon isn't just "the" moon, it is the one we know most closely (literally,) but there have been others.
There was an undetected mini-moon circling us as recently as February this year, although it had been there for several years.
But unlike the mystery mini-moon from the early months of this fantastic year (sarcasm), this potential moon might not be as natural as once thought.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Paul Chodas suspects 2020 SO of being the Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster launched in September 1966. According to Chodas, spectroscopy - the measurement of electromagnetic radiation - may help determine if it is covered in titanium dioxide paint.
And if it's covered in paint then there's a good chance 2020 SO is not natural...
The proposed mini-moon fits the description of the Atlas LV-3C Centaur D rocket. From what we can tell, 2020SO is 20 to 45-feet across which matches the rough size of the rocket lost during a mission in 1966.
When NASA sent an uncrewed mission into space in September 1966, one of the craft's thrusters failed and crash-landed on the moon.
It's likely that mission control didn't follow up on the status of the failed booster and focussed on the mission at hand. In that time, the rocket may have made its way into space only to return to us almost 54 years later.
More evidence to the rocket hypothesis is the Earth-like orbit, combined with the low velocity. This means that 2020 SO takes just over one year to orbit our sun. This orbit is close to that of Earth because the object could be from Earth.
Only time will tell if the mini-moon is from the great depths of space, or a tourist returning home.
But one thing is for sure, we can't wait to find out and we will share the news with you as soon as the mystery is solved. The closer it gets to Earth, the greater the accuracy of studying the light reflecting off its surface.