The Earth Has Acquired a New Car-Sized Moon & It's Not Elon Musk's Car
Our planet may have acquired a new moon in its orbit. Eat that, Mars. Now, we're tied in the moon rankings. At least, temporarily.
Astronomers from the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona College of Science spotted the dim object known as 2020 CD3 on February 19. In the following days, it was spotted by six other observatories, confirming that the object has been "gravitationally bound" to Earth for around three years, reports New Scientist.
The Minor Planet Center announced that it found "no link to a known artificial object" so far, meaning that 2020 CD3 is likely an asteroid snagged by Earth's gravity. The new mini-moon isn't a permanent addition to Earth's entourage. It's a temporary stay in our vicinity. It's just the second known asteroid to become a mini-moon. The first was 2006 RH120, which was in orbit from September 2006 to June 2007, per New Scientist. In June, it escaped orbit and carried on with its life elsewhere like a teenager than never calls home.
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 new moon is pretty tiny. It's estimated to be somewhere between 1.9 and 3.5 meters across, per Kacper Wierzchos of the Catalina Sky Survey. That's about the size of a car, an analogy that made more than a few people crack jokes about the car Elon Musk launched into space in 2018. Musk made ike Shaggy and let it every know, "it wasn't me."
It’s not mine— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2020
The mini-moon is making a full orbit of Earth about once every 47 days. The elliptical orbit lies outside the orbit of our primary moon, and is not stable. Researchers say that unstable orbit will most likely result in the astroid being tossed from Earth's gravitational pull at some point in April. We'll be left like a bunch of empty-nesters wondering what our weirdly named mini-moon is up to out in the great expanse behind our view.