They shall call it ‘mini-moon’: Car-sized object found orbiting Earth

An asteroid is shown hurtling through space in this file photo captured by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. NASA/JPL

Say hello to our little friend.

Sky-watchers have discovered a suspected asteroid-turned-moon in orbit around the Earth, and it’s expected to float around us for the next two months.

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The object, dubbed 2020 CD3, was discovered in mid-February by researchers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Az.

“Earth has a new temporarily captured object/possible mini-moon,” tweeted Kacper Wierzchos, one of the astronomers who spotted the asteroid on Feb. 15.

He also shared a GIF of the little space visitor whipping across the night sky.

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The object appears to have been doing laps around the Earth for about three years, according Wierzchos’ analysis of its flight path. He says it’s between 1.9-3.5 metres wide, which would make it roughly the size of a car.

“It’s a big deal,” Wierzchos added. “Out of [approximately] 1 million known asteroids, this is just the second asteroid known to orbit Earth.”

If it’s indeed an asteroid, that is.

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The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) confirmed the object’s existence on Tuesday, after recording its movements dozens of times since Feb. 22.

“This object is temporarily bound to the Earth,” the MPC said in a statement.

The MPC says further observation is “strongly encouraged” in order to determine whether the object is an asteroid, a comet or something else, such as a piece of space junk.

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More data will also help astronomers figure out where the object came from and how it ended up circling Earth rather than slamming into it.

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“Dynamicists will be able the trace 2020 CD3’s processing through the Earth-Moon system, and work backward to the pre-capture orbit,” Catalina Sky Survey director Eric Christensen told CNN.

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The new discovery is thought to be just the second-known instance of a space rock turning into a temporary moon around Earth. The first one, known as 2006 RH120, occasionally enters Earth’s orbit before the planet’s gravity flings the object back onto its path around the sun.

However, the Catalina Sky Survey says there is still some controversy around 2006 RH120, because its orbit “appears similar to some Apollo-era spent rocket boosters, and therefore some scientists believe it may be an artificial object.”

In other words, the first object might be hunk of junk from a mission to the moon 1.0.

Based on its observations of 2020 CD3, the MPC says “no link to a known artificial object has been found.”

Astronomers say the temporary visitor will leave Earth’s orbit and continue on its way around the sun in April.

That means we have Elon Musk has two months to put a person on the moon 2.0.

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Let the race begin.

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