Near-Earth object 2020 SO extremely close encounter: image and rotation – 01 Dec. 2020.
Earlier today, we managed to capture 2020 SO, likely the booster of the Surveyor 2 space mission. We could also detect evidence of its spin rate and we share our imagery with you.
The picture above puts together two images. The main one comes from a single, 120-seconds exposure, remotely taken with the “Elena” (PlaneWave 17″+Paramount ME+SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at Virtual Telescope. The telescope tracked the fast apparent motion of 2020 SO, this is why stars show as long trails, while the object looks like a bright and sharp dot of light in the center of the image, marked by an arrow.
On the upper-left insert, the telescope tracked the stars for 60 seconds, so 2020 SO left a trail. We see that is a dotted trail, where each brighter dot is followed by a fainter one. Counting how many cycles (bright + faint dots) we have in that 60-seconds long trail, we can guess the rotational period of 2020 SO is very close to 10 seconds. This patter is something similar to what we have seen on other artificial sats.
After it was discovered, 2020 SO nature was checked by JPL’s Paul Chodas and Davide Farnocchia and they suggested it could be the Centaur upper stage rocket booster involved in the Surveyor 2 spacecraft launch toward the Moon, back in 1966.
Furthermore, it has been temporarily captured by our planet and, from to Nov. 2020 to March 2021, it will be a satellite of the Earth.
At the imaging time, 2020 SO was at about 80000 km from our observatory and safely approaching us.It was discovered by the Pan-STARRS Survey on 17 Sept. 2020.
This 4.5 – 10 meters large object reached its minimum distance (about 50000 km) from us on 01 Dec. 2020, at 08:50 UTC (source: Nasa/JPL). Of course, there were no risks at all for our planet.
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