Photo Credit: Twitter/Kacper Wierzchos
Scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey have spotted what might be Earth's second-ever mini-moon. The object, which astronomers are calling 2020 CD3, is an asteroid captured by our planet's gravity. The object, about the size of a car, has been in the Orbit for around three years already, scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey said, after tracing the object's orbit. They have even launched a video showing how the 2020 CD3 has orbited Earth over the past three years.
The object was discovered by two astronomers from the Catalina Sky Survey - Dr Kacper Wierzchos and Dr Theodore Pruyne, on February 15. It is said that this will be the second mini-moon of the Earth ever to be found, after the 2006 RH120 that was also discovered by the Cataline Sky Survey.
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
Millions of asteroids cross each year from all around the earth, with the latest figure being of 22,211 just for 25 February, according to NASA. A lot of these do get sucked in to the Earth's orbit, however, none of them stay long enough to become mini-moons. They either enter the atmosphere, burning up on the entry, or they circle around till their velocity carries them away.
Here's an animated GIF of our new mini-moon 2020 CD3, discovered by @WierzchosKacper. Rotating frame keeps the Earth/Sun line stationary. Orbital elements courtesy of IUA MPEC. https://t.co/dok3jn3G9hhttps://t.co/x1DXWLq2vm pic.twitter.com/O3eRaOIYjB— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) February 26, 2020
The last mini-moon, the 2006 RH120, stayed in the Earth's orbit for about a year, from 2006 to 2007. Another potential mini-moon, called the 469219 Kamo'oalewa, eventually turned out to be in orbit around the Sun near Earth, hence it was called a quasi-satellite.
Scientists at Catalina Sky Survey told The New York Times that the 2020 CD3 was also expected to be just another asteroid orbiting near the Earth. "Except that it was found to be orbiting Earth instead of the Sun," Dr Wierzchos said.
A report in ScienceAlert says that the 2020 CD3 will not be out of the Earth's orbit till April 2020.
The Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) is a NASA funded project supported by the Near Earth Object Observation Program (NEOO) that tracks objects in the space.