NASA’s leading asteroid expert said a flying object expected to become a mini-moon next month may actually be an old rocket stage from a failed moon landing in 1966, the Associated Press reports. Ongoing observation should confirm the object’s identity, initially considered to be an asteroid. Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, speculates that 2020 SO, as the asteroid is formally designated, may actually be space junk. “I’m pretty jazzed about this,” Chodas said. “It’s been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link, and I’ve been doing it for decades now.” Unusual for an asteroid, the object has a near-circular orbit around the sun and is in the same two-dimensional plane relative to the Sun as Earth.
Compared to Chodas’ other speculated cases of space junk entering Earth’s orbit, the latest object’s route is stabler and more direct. “I could be wrong on this. I don’t want to appear overly confident,” Choas said. “But it’s the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch.”