UFO Traveling Towards Earth Leaves NASA Stunned

Space scientists constantly scan the universe, discover new planets, and any possible danger to ours. One night, researchers were examining the night sky when something suddenly flashed across the darkness, leaving them stunned. It appeared to be a passing object traversing our galaxy, dangerously close to Earth.

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But there was something more troubling. The specialists discovered this traveler using a sophisticated telescope – a technology meant to detect space objects that could pose an existential threat to our planet. And unfortunately for all of humanity, it appears that this unidentified object may constitute a menace.

Just Like the Unknown Traveler, Experts Jumped on the Case in a Flash

Fortunately, one man was on the case. Paul Chodas began researching this enigmatic activity a few days after it was discovered. Chodas is the manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. At this point, however, the identity of the object was unknown.

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Was it an asteroid or a piece of space junk? What about a spaceship from some other galaxy? Okay, maybe the third option was a reach. But, it could not be completely dismissed. Scientists had found no obvious explanation for this odd sight in our night sky.

It Didn’t Look or Act Like an Asteroid

Chodas observed that the object was behaving in unusual ways for an asteroid. Typically, an asteroid travels through space on a course that is tilted in regard to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. On the other hand, this body was on the same plane as our planet’s course.

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Another oddity was that 2020 SO, as the object became known, was not moving at the usual pace of asteroids. It traveled at around 1,500 mph, which was substantially slower than normal. Chodas was becoming doubtful that this was an asteroid. But, then, what was this unusual visitor?

A Little Info About Asteroids

The speed – (or lack of it)– of the asteroids was significant, as close passes of the Earth by asteroids are not uncommon. And just in case somewhere here needs reminding, are fragments of rock that have journeyed through space for millions or perhaps billions of years.

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Yeah, you read that right. They’ve been there for quite a long, long time. They are the only remnants of the formation of the solar system. The Sun and the planets, which happened around 4.6 billion years ago – give or take. That’s pretty interesting, no?

How Many Asteroids Do We Have in the Solar System?

When we say “remnants of rocks” that have passed through the solar system for “millions or billions of years,” someone might get worried. Are we in trouble? How many chunks of rocks are there? And how do we know if they don’t head to Earth soon? Relax.

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According to NASA, the Solar System contains over one million asteroids. But don’t be deceived by that seemingly high figure. If you merged all of these chunks of space rock, you’d wind up with a mass that’s less than half the size of our Moon.

Where to Find Asteroids?

Now that we know that, where are the majority of asteroids found? Asteroids are generally found in the region between the planets Mars and Jupiter. And it’s a good thing this area is so far away. The asteroid Vesta, 329 miles in diameter, can be found here.

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It’s a good thing it’s not any closer to Earth! Most asteroids are only about 30 feet across. When one enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it typically burns up and becomes a meteor—ever heard of meteorites? Yeah, it’s time to listen up.

The Threat Meteorites Pose

Now, we keep explaining all these things because it’s important for you to learn something about your planet (if you don’t know already). And it makes understanding what the unknown object Chodas tried to identify easier. Meteorites are the ones that we should be more worried about.

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They survive their fall into our atmosphere and strike the Earth. You may have heard of the popular meteorite that struck our planet approximately 66 million years ago, and the effects of its impact eventually led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. If they can make dinosaurs extinct…

That’s Why the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies Exists

Although most meteors are harmless, this isn’t always the case. That is why the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies exists. You may recall that Chodas, was the one who recognized that the 2020 OS did not appear to be an ordinary asteroid. However, he had no idea what it was.

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Chodas’ organization serves an important purpose. Staff at the agency watch the skies, and when they find an asteroid, they calculate its likely trajectory. The Center for Near-Earth Objects Studies will issue a warning if Earth is hit by a dangerously huge chunk of space rock.

There Were Potential Theories

But could there be a different explanation for the object discovered by the Hawaiian researchers? Yes. Simply put, it may be space debris or junk. Since humans first began looking to the skies, thousands of bits of space debris have been left to orbit the globe.

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That is according to the Natural History Museum in the UK. Launch rocket bits and even paint fragments are floating around in the atmosphere, alongside 3,000 redundant satellites. And there are millions of tiny pieces of trash circling the Earth, caught by its gravitational pull.

Space Junk Orbits Forever

Generally, abandoned junks left at lower altitudes burn up in the atmosphere. However, trash in orbit more than 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface will orbit for centuries, if not millennia. Interestingly, new satellites can collide with dead ones — however, this is a one-in-10,000 possibility.

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Then, when India, China, and the US use these redundant satellites for missile target practice, the impact and explosion of one of these launches generate thousands of more debris. And while space junk may appear to be a remote problem, it is a real one.

The Chance of the Mysterious Object Being an Alien Spaceship

This strange object was not an alien spaceship, as you may have guessed. So, what was it exactly? The facts, though, began to point unexpectedly. Chodas had already ruled out an asteroid because this mass was orbiting the Sun and the Earth.

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But Chodas had noticed the odd direction 2020 SO was going after running a computer simulation. But it was then that he had an idea. Why not try simulating reverse to figure out where the object came from? And that’s exactly what he did.

As Far Back as 1966

Chodas was causing 2020 SO to travel back in time — and the results were frightening. This backward simulation revealed that the object was extremely close to Earth in 1966. He explained to The New York Times that 2020 SO was “close enough that it could have originated from Earth.”

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Chodas went public with this news. He sent an email to colleagues detailing the result generated by his reverse simulation. He suspected the mysterious object was a part of the NASA spacecraft Surveyor 2. And that could be a serious possibility, given how disastrously the Surveyor 2 mission had gone.

Some NASA Surveyor Missions

The International Space Station had to take evasive measures at least three times in 2020 alone to prevent collisions with space junk. Still a remote problem? The fatal Surveyor 2 mission was part of NASA’s Surveyor series, with the first launch from Cape Canaveral in May 1966.

Source: NASA

And the project was off to a strong start. The Surveyor 1 spacecraft, propelled by an Atlas-Centaur rocket, accomplished the first successful soft landing on the Moon’s surface. The Surveyor missions were meant to scout out conditions on the Moon for the human Apollo missions that would follow.

Optimism After the Success of Surveyor 1

Surveyor 1’s success made NASA hopeful of their second Surveyor expedition, which launched in September 1966. Surveyor 2 was entrusted with beaming back pictures of the lunar terrain, similar to its predecessor, which had sent 11,000 images back to Earth. Mike Dinn was the deputy director of the monitoring station.

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It was situated in Tidbinbilla, Australia, that had watched Surveyor 2 as it raced towards the Moon. And in a December 2020 interview with The New York Times, he recalled the upbeat atmosphere surrounding that 1966 launch. “We fully expected Surveyor 2 to succeed,” Dinn said.

But Something Went Wrong

Surveyor 2’s launch was successful. The one-ton spacecraft was launched into space on its way to Sinus Medii, a region of the Moon. However, something went badly wrong with one of Surveyor 2’s three booster engines at a key point in the flight. NASA’s plan for the three thrusters failed.

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They were supposed to fire for slightly under 10 seconds each during the journey. This would correct Surveyor 2’s trajectory, ensuring it landed at the desired location. However, while two of the jets ignited, the third stayed dormant. Sadly, this failure sent the ship into an uncontrollable tailspin.

Lost Contact and Crashed on the Moon

Ground control at the mission center tried firing up the recalcitrant rocket to remedy the fault. But it didn’t work. The spacecraft lost contact with Earth and began falling toward the Moon’s surface. This was recounted in a NASA press statement issued shortly after the accident.

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“For more than 24 hours, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory attempted to correct an out-of-control tumbling condition that began during the midcourse trajectory correction [of Surveyor 2]…it also was apparent that the mission’s major objectives were the mission could not be met.” It eventually crashed into the Moon’s surface.

The Successful Moon Landing

Nonetheless, NASA continued with the Surveyor program despite the disaster. And thankfully, five of the seven launches went off without a hitch. It all came to a head in 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission, which landed men on the Moon. It proved to be a worthy investment after all.

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And it was thanks to data collected by the Surveyor spacecraft previously. Yet, this did not help Chodas. Although he had a feeling the mystery object was a part of the Surveyor 2 rocket, he needed to be certain. The next step was a thorough examination of the 2020 SO.

The World’s Scientific Community Tried Identifying the Object

Scientists from all over the world began to investigate this bizarre flying mass, hoping for identification. It was no easy task. After all, we’re talking about something just approximately 25 feet long. It didn’t help that it was floating through space thousands of miles away from Earth.

Source: NASA

However, there was some evidence that 2020 SO was not a natural asteroid. Researchers in Arizona and Spain confirmed that solar radiation gently modified the object’s path, unusual for solid rock. But what if it was a hollow piece of metal? That is a very normal occurrence.

Gradually Narrowing Down the Identification

As a result, 2020 SO was not an asteroid or an alien spaceship but rather the wreckage of a booster rocket. And Chodas speculated that it could be Surveyor 2’s Centaur rocket part. That was scrapped shortly after the spacecraft took off from Earth.

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After disengaging from Surveyor 2, the Centaur booster continued through space, beyond the Moon, and – as far as anyone could tell – into oblivion. But, if this was the Centaur, it had certainly begun to round the Sun in a full orbit, bringing it close to Earth.

Modern Technology Revealed What It Is Made of

Fortunately, cutting-edge technology proved that 2020 SO was made of metal instead of rock. Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, led the team that examined data from an infrared telescope. Reddy was quoted on the NASA website:

Source: NASA

“Due to the extreme faintness of this object following [the] Center for Near-Earth Object Studies prediction, it was a challenging object to characterize. We got color observations with the Large Binocular Telescope or LBT that suggested 2020 SO was not an asteroid.” But his efforts went beyond that.

The Meticulous Research That Was Conducted

The 2020 SO infrared signature was then matched to 301 steel, the material used in Centaur rockets. However, the researchers needed to be much more accurate to establish a definitive identification because the match was so close. So they moved on to the next stage.

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This included more infrared signal comparisons. “We knew… we’d need to try to get spectral data from another Centaur rocket booster that had been in Earth orbit for many years to see then if it better matched 2020 SO’s spectrum,” Reddy explained. This, too, wouldn’t be an easy task.

Extracting Data Was Difficult

Reddy continued, “Because of the extreme speed at which Earth-orbiting Centaur boosters travel across the sky…we knew it would be extremely difficult to lock on with the Infrared Telescope Facility long enough to get a solid and reliable data set.” But the scientists were dead set on doing just that.

Source: NASA

The researchers concentrated on what they recognized as the remains of a Centaur booster rocket from 1971. They kept this bit of space junk in their scopes long enough to collect enough data to compare it to what they already knew about 2020 SO. It matched!

A Mere Hunch Became a Fact

What was initially a hunch became a fact. This space junk was certainly not an asteroid, or it wasn’t even a spaceship from another galaxy, no matter how much UFO hunters wanted it to be. Instead, it was the Centaur booster rocket of the failed Surveyor 2 mission.

Source: YouTube

This will not be the last time this remembrance of the failed NASA launch appears. The dead thruster will return to Earth sooner than you may think. Chodas revealed this while speaking to The New York Times. He said, “In 2036, it’s coming back.”

The Discovery That Wasn’t Made Known

But for the time being, let’s go backward rather than forwards. Two US space missions arrived on the surface of Mars four decades ago. The craft was subsequently equipped with a series of tests and searched for signs of life on the Red Planet.

Source: NASA

That sounds exciting, does it? We know many people believe we’re not alone in the universe. According to scientist Gilbert Levin, they also discovered what they were looking for. So, why hasn’t NASA been shouting about this historic finding from the rooftops?

Life on the Red Planet

Could there be life on that planet? Finding proof that we are not alone in the universe is the holy grail of innumerable scholars who spend their days stargazing. And since the 1960s, NASA has been at the forefront of the quest to solve this riddle once and for all.

Source: NASA

NASA started the Mars Exploration Program in 1993, a four-pronged initiative. Along with identifying whether or not life has ever existed on Mars, the project intends to investigate the geological makeup and meteorological conditions of this distant part of the universe. NASA aims to make visiting Mars possible.

NASA’s Efforts to Reach Mars

Over the years, NASA has made numerous attempts to collect data on Mars, 140 million miles away from Earth. Mariner 4 soared into space from Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1964, becoming the first successful mission. The probe then completed a fly-by of the planet the following year.

Source: NASA

That was a first. That was far from the only advancement accomplished. As the probe approached Mars, it captured photographs of the surface above — the first-ever close-up view of a planet from deep space. However, communications were cut off later that year, with just a brief restoration in 1967.

Mariner 4 Has Become Space Junk

Mariner 4 has now been abandoned, a spacecraft wreck orbiting aimlessly around the Sun. Other NASA missions, though, have taken place over the years. In 1969, for example, both Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 went to Mars, sending critical information back to Earth along the way.

Source: NASA

These latter probes appear to have been entrusted with establishing the framework for future studies. And this includes the quest for life on Mars. While neither Mariner 6 nor Mariner 7 discovered any Martians, it wouldn’t be long before a NASA mission discovered something intriguing.

An Equipment Failure in Mariner 8

Yet, the space agency experienced some setbacks in the interim. Mariner 8, which launched from Cape Canaveral in May 1971, was meant to be the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Mars. Unfortunately, an equipment malfunction occurred during the launch, causing the spacecraft to fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

Source: NASA

Undaunted, NASA launched Mariner 9 just a few weeks later. This means the US beat the Soviet Union in the race to send a spacecraft to Mars. The probe circled the Red Planet for nearly a year, sending over 7,000 photos back to experts on Earth.

Mariner 9 Was Super Important

Mariner 9 was also an important source of data. It shot 85 percent of Mars’ surface, displaying the complex geography of canyons and craters in great detail. Those seeking indications of life in the area, on the other hand, had very little to go on.

Source: NASA/Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, another large-scale NASA project was drawing to an end. It was going to be a game-changer. Some speculated in the 1960s that man would land on Mars as early as the 1980s. As a forerunner to these potential trips, NASA launched the Voyager Mars Program in 1966.

The Project Was Unfortunately Called Off

Initially, the Voyager Mars Program planned to launch a series of probes into space in the mid-1970s. However, this project was canceled in 1971, the same year Mariner 9 entered Martian orbit. Experts said the projected Voyager Mars probe architecture was faulty, which could be costly and dangerous to launch.

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Despite this unexpected setback, NASA’s grand plans for Mars remained unchanged. NASA remained focused on its plans. The Voyager Mars Program eventually became the Viking Program. This time, the mission’s goals were threefold: acquire comprehensive photos of the planet, analyze its composition, and discover whether life existed there.

The Viking Programs’ Successes

The Viking Program produced the first Mars landers built to look for biosignatures – indications of past or current life – on the planet. So, on August 20, 1975, Viking 1 launched from Cape Canaveral, arriving on Mars nearly a year later. Viking 2 launched from Earth on September 9, 1975.

Source: NASA

And it arrived on Mars a month later. Viking 1 and Viking 2 were in two parts. The orbiter was meant to detach above the Martian atmosphere and capture pictures of the planet below. However, the lander would continue its journey until it came to rest on the alien territory.

Viking 1 Costs a Lot of Money

Viking 1 orbited Mars, looking for a suitable landing location. The units then successfully disengaged, much to the delight of officials at NASA, with each going on its mission. The scheme cost around $1 billion — or about $5 billion today. Remarkably, the Viking Program produced insights.

Source: NASA

These insights will inform Mars’s research for decades to come. While the landers of Viking 1 and Viking 2 occupied themselves on the surface below, the orbiters collected a steady stream of data about Mars. Researchers were able to build a stunning theory from the data they collected.

Signs of Life on Mars

NASA understood that the planet’s surface was covered with the remains of extinct volcanoes. Surprisingly, the photos collected by the two orbiters uncovered something new: evidence that water may have existed in the past. The probes discovered geological features on Mars that could have been caused by flowing liquid.

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The two Viking orbiters also discovered evidence of water on the planet, albeit deep underground. And, despite being called into question over the years, this data has never been proven wrong. As a result, some experts have jumped on the possibility of water as proof that Mars formerly sustained life.

The Viking Orbiters and the Two Landers Kept Working

The two landers were busy with experiments on the surface while the Viking orbiters carried these insights back to Earth. They were assigned to different regions on Mars and were tasked with searching for evidence of life, among other things. And what they discovered has sparked debate to this day.

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Each lander followed several processes designed to collect soil samples from the surface following their arrival on Mars. Viking 1 used its robotic arm at the planet’s equator to put specimens in a specific container; Viking 2 did the same in the northern hemisphere.

Using the Insights to Look for Signs of Life

ON EARTH, the NASA crew hoped that these samples would eventually reveal further about Mars’ biology, possibly establishing how likely it was to sustain life. While most of the materials were ultimately devoid of any flourishing microbes, there were some unexpected results.

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An instrument called a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer was used to identify the compounds found in Martian soil. Finally, this examination revealed that the samples lacked organic life. A gas exchange research was also conducted, examining the specimens’ gases in a laboratory setting.

Viking 1 Produced Something Exciting

In the pyrolytic release experiment, the samples were subjected to conditions to simulate those found on Mars. Researchers hypothesized that any microorganisms present would convert the carbon found in the atmosphere into biomass, which could be detected. But, once again, this procedure yielded no notable results.

Source: NASA

On the other hand, the labeled release experiment made scientists reconsider life on Mars. In fact, after just one month on Mars, Viking 1 had produced evidence indicating something genuinely remarkable. It was a discovery that was well and truly exciting for scientists.

Subsequent Test to Find Life on the Red Planet

The labeled release experiment took a sample of Martian soil and immersed it in a specific nutrition mixture. If any microbes were in the specimen, they would begin to metabolize the solution, which could be observed and tracked. Importantly, both the pyrolytic release and labeled release procedures included control tests.

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These tests allowed researchers to double-check the results. If either of these studies yielded a favorable result, the same soil would be submitted to a subsequent operation. And by heating the sample, researchers would be able to tell whether the reaction was chemical or biological.

The Discovery We’ve Been Waiting on

Interestingly, the first labeled release experiment revealed that there were living microorganisms on Mars. Not only that, but the control test validated this conclusion, implying that the action was biological rather than chemical. The astounding discovery did not appear to be a one-time occurrence, though.

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Both Viking 1 and Viking 2 continued to undertake labeled release experiments on Mars throughout the program, with NASA eventually getting four indications of the presence of microorganisms in Martian soil. The data appears to be similar to that collected from Earth samples.

But Why Didn’t We Hear About This Discovery?

Unfortunately, the results didn’t hold up under investigation. When another Viking experiment, a molecular analysis, failed to produce any conclusive evidence, NASA came to a somewhat depressing conclusion. The agency’s researchers decided that the favorable results achieved by the labeled release experiment were not confirmation of microbial activity on Mars.

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Instead, they showed something in the Martian soil that was simply mimicking the appearance of life. Ugh. Bummer! However, this conclusion was not shared by everyone. In addition, in 1997, two of the scientists involved in the study revealed their perspectives on the subject.

The Opinions of Two Scientists

Engineer Dr. Gilbert Levin and co-experimenter Patricia Ann Straat, alongside scholar Barry DiGregorio, discussed the labeled release procedures in the book Mars: The Living Planet. Levin claimed the tests confirmed the presence of microbial life on Mars – which he still believes. For many years, Levin was in the minority.

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Most of his colleagues questioned his conclusions. However, the engineer obtained some justification in April 2012, when the second analysis results were disclosed. At the University of Southern California, Ex-NASA project director Joseph Miller has opted to revisit the labeled release experiment.

Methane Has been Detected on Mars

According to Levin, NASA never sent any life-detection device back to Mars to double-check the Viking program results. More incredible discoveries have emerged over the years. When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, it discovered evidence that the Martian environment once provided adequate conditions for life to exist.

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Methane has also been identified in Mars’ atmosphere, indicating the presence of biological organisms. However, NASA has only one future mission to Mars planned to collect Martian soil. If alien life is ever discovered, it could be because of the efforts of private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX.