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How did a rocket booster from 1966 become a Near-Earth Object?

Topics Covered: Awareness in space.

How did a rocket booster from 1966 become a Near-Earth Object?


Context:

In September, the NASA-funded Pan-STARRS1 telescope detected an unknown object which followed a curved path in the sky, indicating its proximity to the Earth.

Initially, the object was thought to be an asteroid orbiting the Earth and was hence given a name by the Minor Planet Center.

  • However, scientists have now concluded that the Near-Earth Object called 2020 SO is the rocket booster that helped lift the space agency’s Surveyor spacecraft toward the Moon in 1966.

What was Surveyor-2?

The Surveyor-2 spacecraft was supposed to make a soft landing on the Moon’s surface in September 1966, during which time one of the three thrusters failed to ignite as a result of which the spacecraft started spinning and crashed on the surface.

  • The aim of the mission was to reconnoiter the lunar surface ahead of the Apollo missions that led to the first lunar landing in 1969.

What happened then?

While the spacecraft crashed into the Moon’s surface, the rocket booster disappeared into an unknown orbit around the Sun.

About Pan-STARRS1 telescope:

The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, Pan-STARRS for short, is a system for wide-field astronomical imaging, developed and operated by the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.

  • Pan-STARRS1 (PS1) is the first part of Pan-STARRS to be completed. The PS1 survey uses a 1.8-meter telescope and its 1.4 Gigapixel camera to image the sky.

Sources: Indian Express.