Astronomers from the Catalina Sky Centre believe they have spotted an asteroid caught in Earth’s gravity, adding a mini-moon into the orbit around our planet.
According to Science Alert, the asteroid has been named 2020 CD3, and is a small chunk of likely carbonaceous rock between 1.9 and 3.5 metres in diameter.
“On the night of Feb. 15, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Teddy Pruyne and I found a 20th magnitude object,” Kacper Wierzchos tweeted Tuesday.
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 big surprise is that after analysing the asteroid’s trajectory around the Earth, the researchers have hypothesised that it has probably been in orbit for three years already.
This is the second known asteroid to enter Earth’s orbit with the last one, 2006 RH120, orbiting for 18 months before moving on.
The reason this event is so rare is because most asteroids which enter Earth’s atmosphere either burn up on entry or get pushed out of orbit again by their own velocity.
Should it stick around, this asteroid could offer a promising site for asteroid exploration. Usually, a time-consuming task as asteroids are far away, having one just next-door may make this a lot easier.
However, one simulation estimate this asteroid is about getting ready to leave, possibly as early as April this year.
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