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Earth's Gravity Catches 'Another Moon'

Scientists call it a 'minimoon'
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2020 4:58 PM CST

(Newser) – Take a gander at the stars, and you might spot ... no, you won't. It's way too small. But scientists say Earth likely has another moon—at least for now—that's no bigger than a car, New Scientist reports. Astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona noticed it crossing the sky on Feb. 15 and posted a tweet with images. The Minor Planet Center followed up with a statement that "this object is temporarily bound to the Earth" and "no link to a known artificial object has been found." The upshot is that it's likely an asteroid, about 6 by 11 feet, that was ensared by Earth's gravity. What's interesting is how rarely astronomers notice these "minimoons," considering all the millions of asteroids zipping around our solar system.

Only one was officially observed before now, back in 2006. It orbited Earth for 11 months before breaking free into space, Popular Mechanics recently recalled. Such minimoons also get pulled into Earth's atmosphere and become meteors, like fireballs that were spotted in Australia in 2016 and Europe in 2014. Seems they might be useful, too: A scientist told Astronomy in November that minimoons are "awesome" because they're "the most accessible object" we can reach in the solar system. The magazine explained they could be used "for sample return missions, tests of asteroid redirection technologies or resource mining." As for the latest minimoon, dubbed 2020 CD3, it's probably bound to our planet for the next three years. (Read more astronomy stories.)

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