Not too long ago - two weeks to be exact - we penned a letter to you.
Okay, okay, it wasn't penned, per se. We're trying to make this sound more personal. But you know what we mean.
Earth is going to receive a "mini-moon" sometime between now and December. A Hawaiian telescope designed to save from doomsday objects spotted the object zooming in our direction last month. Then It was added to a database that tallies all the known asteroids and comets in our solar system.
Only, we weren't so sure it was an asteroid in the traditional sense.
And now, when Earth's atmosphere welcomes the object, it won't look like a moon at all.
It is about 8 metres long, 3 metres wide, and sports a handsome nozzle. It's long, strong, and it formerly got its thrust on. That's right, it's not a lunar mooner... Or even an asteroid.
It's a rocket.
And we are howling with laughter at the thought of all the "free spirits" thinking the mini-moon was going to align their chakras etc...
(Trust us, we were getting emails, they exist).
Instead of a far-flung interstellar visitor from the reaches of space, we're going to reunite with an old Centaur upper rocket stage from 54 years ago.
Yep, the supposed "asteroid" called 2020 SO is artificial. Man-made. Fabricated. Ummmm... Not organic.
You get the idea.
And the best part is...
We called it.
Ahhhhh that feels good.
A good friend of ours, Paul Chodas, had the same hypothesis, that it wasn't an asteroid at all.
“I’m pretty jazzed about this. It’s been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link. And I’ve been doing it for decades now.”
Chodas came to the same conclusion we did after some calculations and adding up the evidence. The shape was one of them. I mean its a rocket-shaped asteroid?
The other being the orbit of the object and how closely it resembles ours. Which is very unusual for an asteroid.
Also, it is in the same plane as Earth, meaning it is not above or below our vector. An asteroid would usually zip past at a random angle, and the likelihood of matching our path is improbable to the Nth degree.
And thirdly, the asteroid is slow by asteroid standards.
It is heading our way at just 2,400kph.
Here's a look at the projected path of the returning rocket.
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
Astronomers will get a better crack at the object, including its orbit. As well as how radiation and thermal effects from the sun push it off course. It's an empty trash can floating home, for all intents and purposes. And the closer it gets, the more we'll be able to understand it.
“I could be wrong on this. I don’t want to appear overly confident, but it’s the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch.” said Chodas. We think he's being mild.
Its totally the Centaur rocket.