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Astronomers Discover “Mini-Moon” Which is Temporarily Orbiting The Earth

Our permanent Moon is an average of 384,400 km away from Earth

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Earth
The orbit of the newly discovered object, 2020 CD3, shows that it entered Earth's orbit some three years ago, The Minor Planet Center (MPC) of the International Astronomical Union confirmed. Pixabay

Astronomers have discovered that a car-sized second natural satellite, commonly called a mini-moon, is temporarily orbiting Earth for the past three years.

“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,” Kacper Wierzchos, a researcher with the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab, tweeted this week.

The orbit of the newly discovered object, 2020 CD3, shows that it entered Earth’s orbit some three years ago, The Minor Planet Center (MPC) of the International Astronomical Union confirmed.

“The object has a diameter between 1.9 – 3.5 metre (6.2 and 11.5 feet) assuming a C-type asteroid albedo. But it’s a big deal as out of approximately 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),” Wierzchos said.

In its official designation, MPC had stated that orbit integrations indicate that “this object is temporarily bound to the Earth.”

“No evidence of perturbations due to solar radiation pressure is seen, and no link to a known artificial object has been found. Further observations and dynamical studies are strongly encouraged,” it added.

In an article published in The Conversation on Thursday, David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at The Open University in Britain explained that the so-called “mini-moons” like this one come and go, and the newly found object is probably already on its final loop before breaking free.

These “mini-moons” do not orbit for long as gravitational pulls from the Sun and Earth’s permanent moon make their orbits unstable. The initial approach of the newly discovered mini-moon towards the Earth suggests that it was captured into orbit at a somewhat greater distance than the Earth’s permanent moon, Rothery said.

Our permanent Moon is an average of 384,400 km away from Earth.

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Astronomers have discovered that a car-sized second natural satellite, commonly called a mini-moon, is temporarily orbiting Earth for the past three years. (Representational Image). Pixabay

While astronomers believe that there is at least one mini-moon orbiting Earth at any given time, they often go undetected due their their relatively small size.

Until now, only one such satellite has been discovered — a three feet wide asteroid called 2006 RH120, which orbited Earth for 18 months in 2006 and 2007.

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The new mini-moon, 2020 CD3, was discovered using a 1.52-metre telescope at Mount Lemmon Observatory near Tucson, Arizona on February 15. (IANS)

Next Story

NASA Plans To Unveil New Mission For Studying The Causes of Solar Particle Storms

"We are so pleased to add a new mission to our fleet of spacecraft that help us better understand the Sun, as well as how our star influences the space environment between planets," said Nicky Fox, Director of NASA's Heliophysics Division

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NASA
NASA has awarded $62.6 million to design, build and launch SunRISE by no earlier than July 1, 2023. Pixabay

NASA is planning to launch a new mission to study how the Sun generates and releases giant space weather storms — known as solar particle storms — into planetary space.

The new mission, called the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), is an array of six CubeSats operating as one very large radio telescope, the US space agency said on Monday. NASA has awarded $62.6 million to design, build and launch SunRISE by no earlier than July 1, 2023.

Understanding how the Sun generates and releases giant space weather storms can ultimately help protect astronauts travelling to the Moon and Mars by providing better information on how the Sun’s radiation affects the space environment they must travel through.

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“We are so pleased to add a new mission to our fleet of spacecraft that help us better understand the Sun, as well as how our star influences the space environment between planets,” said Nicky Fox, Director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division.

“The more we know about how the Sun erupts with space weather events, the more we can mitigate their effects on spacecraft and astronauts.” The mission design relies on six solar-powered CubeSats — each about the size of a toaster oven — to simultaneously observe radio images of low-frequency emission from solar activity and share them via NASA’s Deep Space Network.

The constellation of CubeSats would fly within six miles (9.6 kms) of each other, above Earth’s atmosphere, which otherwise blocks the radio signals SunRISE will observe.

Solar System
NASA is planning to launch a new mission to study how the Sun generates and releases giant space weather storms — known as solar particle storms — into planetary space. Pixabay

Together, the six CubeSats will create 3D maps to pinpoint where giant particle bursts originate on the Sun and how they evolve as they expand outward into space. This, in turn, will help determine what initiates and accelerates these giant jets of radiation.

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The six individual spacecraft will also work together to map, for the first time, the pattern of magnetic field lines reaching from the Sun out into interplanetary space, NASA said. (IANS)