1966 rocket booster finally breaks free from Earth

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Astronomers first spotted an unknown object with an incoming trajectory in September 2020 and initially believed it was an asteroid.

On closer inspection, it became clear that the object is a discarded rocket booster from the failed Surveyor 2 mission from 1966.


RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. Show object 2020 SO on a parallel orbit to Earth's, slowly moving closer to Earth
2. Booster and lander approach moon, lander detaches, drops to moon
3. Lander starts to tumble, crashes into moon, booster floats into space overhead
4. Booster floats out, zoom out to see moon, earth, sun behind booster
5. Keep zooming out, see Earth and booster's orbits around sun
6. Booster's orbit falls into Earth's gravitational field, slingshots around Earth twice


VOICEOVER (in English):
Earth's so-called "second moon" will make one final pass this week before floating out into space forever.

Astronomers first spotted an unknown object with an incoming trajectory in September 2020 and initially believed it was an asteroid.

On closer inspection, it became clear that the object is a discarded rocket booster from the failed Surveyor 2 mission from 1966.

The lunar lander it was ferrying ended up crashing into the moon.

After ferrying this failed research lander to the moon, the booster floated past the moon, ending up in an orbit very similar to Earth's.

Now, after decades of floating out there, this far-out piece of hardware managed to get itself trapped in Earth's gravitational pull again.

Ironically, it is also this rare entrapment that will finally set the booster free to fall into the gravitational arms of the sun.

This is made possible by the slingshot effect that accelerates small objects and dramatically bend their trajectories when they pass near large bodies and fall into the gravitational fields of these bodies.


SOURCES: Earthsky.org, Space.com, Extreme Tech
https://earthsky.org/space/2020-so-mini-moon-asteroid-or-space-junk
https://www.space.com/earth-minimoon-2020-so-may-be-vintage-space-junk
https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/319604-earths-minimoon-is-about-to-leave-us-forever