Earth has a new mini-moon — but it’s only temporary

It’s not the moon, but you can call it mini-moon. Earth has captured a tiny object and pulled it into orbit. The asteroid, known as 2020 CD3, is only the second asteroid known to orbit Earth. And while it won’t last, this asteroid acts as a temporary mini-moon whirling around our planet. The discovery was made by Kacper Wierzchos and Theodore Pruyne, researcher specialists for the Catalina Sky Survey. It’s a NASA-funded project at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tuscon, Arizona. The survey is supported by the Near-Earth Object Observations Program, which reports into NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Specialists at Catalina help NASA discover and track near-Earth objects that could be potentially hazardous to the planet.In this case, they found a natural satellite that was pulled into Earth’s orbit three years ago.close dialog

Receive Fareed Zakaria’s Global Analysisincluding insights and must-reads of world newsActivate Fareed’s BriefingBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.Kacper Wierzchos@WierzchosKacper

BIG NEWS (thread 1/3). Earth has a new temporarily captured object/Possible mini-moon called 2020 CD3. On the night of Feb. 15, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Teddy Pruyne and I found a 20th magnitude object. Here are the discovery images. On Tuesday, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Minor Planet Center announced the object. The MPC is “the single worldwide location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements of minor planets, comets and outer irregular natural satellites of the major planets.””Orbit integrations indicate that this object is temporarily bound to the Earth,” according to the announcement on its site. “No link to a known artificial object has been found. Further observations and dynamical studies are strongly encouraged.”Kacper Wierzchos@WierzchosKacper

(2/3) The object has just been announced by the MPC and its orbit shows that it entered Earth’s orbit some three years ago. Here is a diagram of the orbit created with the orbit simulator written by Tony Dunn:

View image on Twitter

The asteroid is likely between 6.2 feet and 11.4 feet in diameter, the researchers said on Twitter.Kacper Wierzchos@WierzchosKacper

(3/3) The object has a diameter between 1.9 – 3.5 m assuming a C-type asteroid albedo. But it’s a big deal as out of ~ 1 million known asteroids, this is just the second asteroid known to orbit Earth (after 2006 RH120, which was also discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey). The first known asteroid to orbit Earth, asteroid 2006 RH120, was discovered using the Catalina Sky Survey in September 2006. It’s known as a TCO, or Temporarily Captured Object to astronomers.”The story of 2006 RH120 is not without controversy however, as it’s orbit appears similar to some Apollo-era spent rockets boosters, and therefore some scientists believe it may be an artificial object,” according to the survey’s website. With increasing capabilities of surveys, it’s likely that more temporarily captured objects “will be discovered in the coming years, allowing for improved definition and characterization of this strange class of near-Earth objects.”

%d bloggers like this: