According to some scientists, the planet Earth might have a new moon in its orbit, although it is very small, so small in fact, that it is probably not much bigger than a car. Last week, on the 19th of February, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona noticed a small and dim object moving very quickly across the night sky. The researchers posted their findings online to share with other scientists, and in the days that followed, experts around the world looked for the object to see if they could confirm, and expand upon the findings.
At six other observatories around, researchers saw the same object, which was eventually designated with the name “2020 CD3.” Once they were able to pinpoint the object, researchers then calculated its orbit, and found that it has been gravitationally bound to Earth for about three years.
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 Wierzchoś (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020
The Minor Planet Center (MPC), which is the official worldwide organization in charge of collecting observational data for minor planets, such as asteroids, made an announcement which stated that “no link to a known artificial object has been found.” What this means is that the object is not a satellite and probably an asteroid that was caught by Earth’s gravity as it passed by.
This is not the first time that the planet earth has had a temporary second moon. Between September 2006 and June 2007 another asteroid was captured by the earth’s orbit, and lasted several months. The asteroid was called 2006 RH120.
This new asteroid is estimated to be 1.9 and 3.5 meters across, which is roughly the size of a car. Scientists believe that it circles our planet about once every 47 days on a wide, oval-shaped orbit. However, it is obvious to researchers that the object is not stable and will eventually be thrown from the earth’s orbit.
Grigori Fedorets at Queen’s University Belfast in the UK, predicted that the object will escape from the earth’s orbit sometime in April.
“It is heading away from the Earth-moon system as we speak,” Fedorets said.
“Our international team is continuously working to constrain a better solution,” he added.
However, this is only one theory, and all researchers do not necessarily agree with these estimations. In fact, there are several different simulations of its trajectory and they are all different.
The Minor Planet Center was set up at the University of Cincinnati in 1947, under the direction of Paul Herget.
The MPC runs a number of free online services for observers to assist them in observing minor planets and comets. The complete catalogue of minor planet orbits (sometimes referred to as the “Minor Planet Catalogue”) may also be freely downloaded. In addition to astrometric data, the MPC collects light curve photometry of minor planets. A key function of the MPC is helping observers coordinate follow up observations of possible Near Earth Objects (NEOs) via its NEO web form and blog. The MPC is also responsible for identifying, and alerting to, new NEOs with a risk of impacting Earth in the few weeks following their discovery,