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Piece of Apollo 12 Rocket Is Back in Earth Orbit

Astronomy

September 21, 2002|From Times Wire Reports

A long-lost piece of an Apollo rocket has returned to Earth orbit after decades of racing around the sun, the first time our planet has captured an object from solar orbit, astronomers said Friday.

Earth's new satellite is most likely the third stage of a massive Saturn V rocket that lifted Apollo 12 astronauts to the moon in November 1969, according to astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Last seen in an elongated 43-day orbit around Earth, the bus-sized rocket stage escaped Earth orbit in March 1971, the laboratory said.

Known now as J002E3 and first seen by an amateur astronomer Sept. 3, the rocket stage probably completed nine or 10 Earth orbits, then swung far enough toward the sun to be pulled into a sun-centered orbit, the JPL said.

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