It was revealed in a grainy black and white photo, but astronomers have just released the first colored image of Earth’s new mini-moon.
Called 2020 CD3, the asteroid has been orbiting our Earth for three years and was spotted on February 15 using the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) in Arizona.
The recent image was created using three filters and shows a tiny bright dot against a dark background with star trails.
Although the discovery is being celebrated, this is only the second mini-moon to orbit Earth, one expert believes the object may be human-made space debris due to the fact it has high reflectivity.
Astronomers have just released the first colored image of Earth’s new mini-moon. The recent image was created using three filters and shows a tiny bright dot against a dark background with star trails
Grigori Fedorets, the lead astronomer for the observations, explained the object could be a rare natural rocky object, or it could be something humans put into space decades ago — essentially space debris.
‘Either way this is a very compelling object and needs more data to determine what it is,’ said Fedorets.
Catalina Sky Survey is a NASA funded project supported by the Near Earth Object Observation Program (NEOO) under the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).
The organization is based at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson, Arizona and is focused on tracking and discovering near-Earth objects.
Although the discovery is being celebrated, this is only the second mini-moon to orbit Earth, one expert believes the object may be human-made space debris due to the fact it has high reflectivity
The mini-moon was seen in the night sky of February 15th by astronomers Kacper Wierzchos and Teddy Pruyne.
The team released a grainy black and white image of the new mini-moon on February 24, following confirmation from Minor Planet Center, a branch of the International Astronomical Union, that the object was in fact orbiting Earth.
But now, the team has developed the mini-moon in a colorful image.
John Blakeslee, Head of Science at the international Gemini Observatory, said: ‘Obtaining the images was a scramble for the Gemini team because the object is quickly becoming fainter as it moves away from Earth’.
‘It is expected to be ejected from Earth’s orbit altogether in April’.
Although the asteroid has been classified as a mini-moon, Fedorets has not ruled out the possibility that it could be space junk.
Additional observations to refine its position will help us determine this mystery object’s orbit and its possible origin,’ said Fedorets, adding that its reflectivity is also an important characteristic, as rocky bodies tend to have relatively low reflectivity compared to things like spent rocket boosters.
The team has compared its size to that of a washing machine and believes it has been circling Earth for about three years, based on orbital trajectory calculations.
‘BIG NEWS. 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,’ Wierzchos shared in a tweet on February 25th, after the Minor Planet Center, a branch of the International Astronomical Union classified the asteroid as a temporarily captured object.
The last mini-moon to appear in Earth’s gravity was last year and it fell from the sky over Australia.
The fireball was first spotted by Australia’s Desert Fireball Network in August 2016 and at the time astronomers thought it was a normal meteor.
The DN160822_03 fireball – pictured – was spotted flying over the Australian sky in 2016 but it wasn’t confirmed as a mini-moon until 2019
Researchers studying its trajectory say the fireball, called DN160822_03, actually circled the Earth before losing orbit, making it a mini-moon.
Only one other mini-moon has ever been observed with a telescope and it orbited the Earth for 11 months before flying off into space.
In 2006, the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey discovered a mini-moon about the size of a car. Known as 2006 RH120, it orbited Earth for less than a year after its discovery, then resumed orbiting the Sun.
Our Moon, walked on by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and others from the Apollo missions, is 2,000-miles in diameter and has orbited the Earth for four billion years.
In contrast a mini-moon is thought to be a few feet across and only orbits the planet for less than a year before resuming its life as an asteroid or falling to Earth as a meteor fireball.