Earth has a new mini-moon: Asteroid the size of a washing machine has been orbiting Earth for the past three years
- Astronomers tracked an asteroid in the sky and found it is orbiting Earth
- The asteroid, seen on Feb. 15., has now been confirmed as a mini-moon
- It is six to 12 feet in diameter and has a surface brightness of C-type asteroids
- The object is only temporarily captured and will one day fly out of the orbit
Astronomers have spotted a new visitor in Earth’s gravity – a mini-moon.
NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey discovered a temporarily captured asteroid, called 2020 CD3, which has been orbiting our planet for three years.
The tiny cosmic object is estimated to about six to 12 feet in diameter and has a surface brightness similar to C-type asteroids, which are carbon rich and very common.
This rare sighting is ‘big news’ due to the fact that there are more than a million known asteroids, but this is only the second one to orbit Earth.
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NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey discovered a temporarily captured asteroid, called 2020 CD3, which has been orbiting our planet for three years
Although there are more than a million know asteroids in the solar system, this is the second one to orbit Earth.
Catalina Sky Survey is a NASA funded project supported by the Near Earth Object Observation Program (NEOO) under the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).
The organization is based at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson, Arizona and is focused on tracking and discovering near-Earth objects.
Their latest find, 2020 CD3, was seen in the night sky of February 15th by astronomers Kacper Wierzchos and Teddy Pruyne.
The mini-moon was then spotted four times by February 17th, which was enough evidence for experts to confirm it is orbiting our planet.
‘BIG NEWS. 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,’ Wierzchos shared in a tweet on February 25th, after the Minor Planet Center, a branch of the International Astronomical Union classified the asteroid as a temporarily captured object.
The team has compared its size to that of a washing machine and believes it has been circling Earth for about three years, based on orbital trajectory calculations.
The last mini-moon to appear in Earth’s gravity was last year and it fell from the sky over Australia.
The fireball was first spotted by Australia’s Desert Fireball Network in August 2016 and at the time astronomers thought it was a normal meteor.
The DN160822_03 fireball – pictured – was spotted flying over the Australian sky in 2016 but it wasn’t confirmed as a mini-moon until 2019
Researchers studying its trajectory say the fireball, called DN160822_03, actually circled the Earth before losing orbit, making it a mini-moon.
Only one other mini-moon has ever been observed with a telescope and it orbited the Earth for 11 months before flying off into space.
In 2006, the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey discovered a mini-moon about the size of a car. Known as 2006 RH120, it orbited Earth for less than a year after its discovery, then resumed orbiting the Sun.
Our Moon, walked on by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and others from the Apollo missions, is 2,000-miles in diameter and has orbited the Earth for four billion years.
In contrast a mini-moon is thought to be a few feet across and only orbits the planet for less than a year before resuming its life as an asteroid or falling to Earth as a meteor fireball.