A NASA missile the size of a bus appears to be hurtling back to earth at 1,500 miles an hour over 54 years after launch.
A team from the Space Program Agency attempted a moon landing in 1966, during which the rocket was swept into orbit the sun after it released its lander, which then crashed due to an engine malfunction.
The object, which was likely around 30 meters long, was originally mistaken for an asteroid – and named Asteroid 2020 SO – when a Hawaii telescope captured it in September.
However, experts are now convinced that it is the upper part of the Centaur missile that was fired by the American Surveyor 2 lander.
The telescope was looking for “Doomsday Rocks” toward Earth when it intercepted the apparent rocket that the NASA team had thrown away as garbage and that was never expected to reappear.
Paul Chodas, manager of the NASA NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said, “I’m pretty excited about this.
“It was a hobby of mine to find one of these and make that connection, and I’ve been doing it for decades.
“I could be wrong. I don’t want to appear overconfident.
“But in my opinion it is the first time that all parts fit into an actually known start.”
The object’s near-circular orbit around the Sun is unusual for an asteroid, as is the slower speed at which it moves.
It is also in the same plane as the Earth, with neither tilting up nor down – everything indicates that it is more of a rocket than a space rock.
In 2002, Mr. Chodas also found out what he thought was the leftover third stage of Saturn V from Apollo 12 from 1969 – NASA’s second mission to land on the moon.
He estimates that the latest find will orbit Earth for several months before finding its own orbit around the Sun in March.
When asked if there is a risk of course changing and falling into the earth, Mr Chodas said it was unlikely but added, “At least not this time.”