A new mini-moon on its way into Earth's orbit, first thought to be a small asteroid, may turn out to just be large hunk of space junk. Scientists first observed the object, dubbed 2020 SO, last month using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii. Further analysis suggests that it might be a big booster from NASA's 1966 Surveyor 2 lunar mission. From Space.com:
"I suspect this newly discovered object 2020 SO to be an old rocket booster because it is following an orbit about the sun that is extremely similar to Earth's, nearly circular, in the same plane, and only slightly farther away the sun at its farthest point," Paul Chodas, head of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies in California, told CNN[…]
The identity of 2020 SO will become clearer with more observations next month as scientists watch how the sun affects the object, Chodas said. "We should start being able to detect the effect of sunlight pressure has on the motion of this object: If it really is a rocket body, it will be much less dense than an asteroid and the slight pressure due to sunlight will produce enough change in its motion that we should be able to detect it in the tracking data." […]
Minimoon or space junk, scientists currently suspect that 2020 SO will fall into orbit this fall, then make its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 1 and Feb. 3, according to NASA, before slipping away again in the spring.