It's been a big year for NASA discoveries as the US Government agency has previously made headlines regarding water on the moon, perhaps evidence of an alternate dimension, and even helping out Tom Cruise to film a movie in space. Now the group has announced that an object of unknown origin is expected to skate past our planet in the early hours of Tuesday, December 1. Though the salaciousness of this news comes to us by way of TMZ, and the object in question is in fact still unknown, NASA apparently has a guess about what the so-called "2020 SO" actually might be.
"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, director of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies told CNN. "That's precisely the kind of orbit that a rocket stage separated from a lunar mission would follow, once it passes by the Moon and escapes into orbit about the Sun. It's unlikely that an asteroid could have evolved into an orbit like this, but not impossible."
In a separate interview with Space.Com, Chodas said that they've previously theorized that debris and parts from old launches could one day make their way back to Earth, adding: "We've kind of mused about whether [or] when this would this happen. I've over the years looked at asteroid orbits to see if any of them was in an orbit around the sun that was likely to have been associated with a launch."
The object will reach its closest to Earth at 3:50 AM ET on Tuesday (a few hours from this writing) and will be just 31,605 miles away. It measures an estimated 15-33 feet in width, lending credence to Chodas' theory.
Should Chodas' guess on what "2020 SO" actually is prove to be accurate it would only mark the second time that a rocket stage from a previous launch was caught in the orbit of the Earth. Back in 2002 part of the Saturn V rocket from Apollo 12 seemingly passed Earth.
Chodas previously added, "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."