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Mysterious object in solar orbit identified as upper stage for Surveyor 2

Since August astronomers have been trying to figure out the nature of a mysterious object in solar orbit that did not match their expectations for either a comet or an asteroid. Dubbed 2020 SO, astronomers have now identified it as the upper stage booster used to send the unmanned lunar lander Surveyor 2 towards the Moon in 1966.

Surveyor 2 was a failure when it began tumbling and crashed into the Moon instead of doing a soft landing. Its upper stage meanwhile was sent on a path that would have it miss the Moon and go into orbit around the Sun. That orbit finally brought it back to Earth this year.

2020 SO was captured by Earth’s gravity in November and came within 27,400 miles from Earth on December 1. That’s when Reddy and his colleagues at the IRTF were able to capture the infrared spectrum of another Centaur D rocket booster—this time from a 1971 launch of a communication satellite. When they compared that spectrum to the data gathered about 2020 SO, the spectra matched. 2020 SO is also a Centaur rocket booster, most likely the one used for the Surveyor 2 mission.

2020 SO is now moving away from the Earth and should escape Earth’s gravity within a few months, at which point it will follow a new solar orbit. But astronomers expect it to return to Earth in 2036, and they will be ready to learn even more when it does.

This booster is essentially an early example of space archeology. Someday colonists in space will go and catch it to bring it back to one of their museums on the Moon or Mars, to be studied and admired as a major marker of their own past history.

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Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

2 comments

  • Jay

    Surprisingly there are many early satellites still in orbit. The way prices are dropping on launch services, reclamation of old satellites could be affordable. I can see it now, the National Air & Space Museum sponsors a flight to bring back Vanguard-1 for display or AMSAT brings back the nearly 50 year old AO-07 for display.

  • “Captured by Earth’s gravity” — LOL — not.

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