New ‘mini-moon’ orbiting Earth
A NEW "mini-moon" has been discovered orbiting the Earth, but it might not stick around for long.
The mini-moon, believed to be an asteroid, is what's known as a "temporarily captured object" (TCO), one that has entered the Earth's orbit but is likely to exit it back into the solar system.
The latest TCO, roughly 2-3.5 metres in diameter, was discovered by the NASA-backed Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona.
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The program monitors the skies for potentially dangerous objects that come near Earth, and recently detected one it believes began orbiting Earth around three years ago.
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Minor Planet Center announced the find on Tuesday.
Researchers Kacper Wierzchos and Theodore Pruyne made the discovery earlier this month and shared details on Twitter on Wednesday.
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. pic.twitter.com/zLkXyGAkZl— Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020
The Smithsonian said "the object is temporarily bound to the Earth" but "further observations and dynamical studies are strongly encouraged" to figure out exactly what it is and where it came from.
It's only the second time an asteroid has begun orbiting the Earth, according to Mr Wierzchos
(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).— Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020
The Catalina Sky Survey detected another asteroid orbiting Earth in 2006, but that asteroid might have also been space junk.
Its orbit appeared similar to spent rocket boosters from past space missions.