A new member has joined our skies’ celestial family as scientists discover a second moon, or a minimoon in Earth’s orbit. By Bayar Jain
The moon has often been a muse for artists, poets, songwriters, and photographers for generations. For a temporary period, a new source of inspiration can be added to the mix, owing to a newly discovered minimoon, or what is colloquially being called a ‘second moon.’
Researchers from the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona have found 2020 CD3, a small celestial object caught in the Earth’s orbit. Dubbed as a minimoon – a space rock captured in Earth’s orbit for several months or years – this rare satellite, however, is a guest in space as it could soon shoot off to a distant solar system, or crumble and burn in our atmosphere.
Kacper Wierzchos, a senior research specialist at NASA and University of Arizona-funded Catalina Sky Survey, took to Twitter to make this announcement. He further explained how the object has a diameter between 1.9 metres to 3.5 minutes. It is believed that this carbon-rich asteroid has been stuck in our orbit for the past three years, and completes a lap every 47 days, travelling in an oval-shaped orbit. However, scientists are yet to confirm whether this rock is naturally occurring, or junk floating around in the abyss.
Although astronomers suspect that there is always at least one minimoon circling our planet, these tiny satellites are rarely discovered. Until now, only one other such instance has been discovered: a three-foot-wide asteroid called RH120, which orbited Earth between 2006 and 2007 for 18 months. Later, it was captured and thrown into an orbit around Earth, like the Moon. This mini moon however, flew back into space, in less than nine months.