Look up toward the sky and wave hello to Earth’s new mini moon — even if you can’t see it.
Our planet temporarily gained an additional, natural moon when a small asteroid was pulled into Earth’s orbit three years ago, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) announced late Tuesday.
The asteroid, lyrically named 2020 CD3, is estimated to be about 6 to 12 feet in diameter.
Multiple observations of the “temporarily captured object” are documented in a new Minor Planet Electronic Circular published by the MPC. The post indicates that the object is “temporarily bound to the Earth.”
“No evidence of perturbations due to solar radiation pressure is seen, and no link to a known artificial object has been found,” astronomers wrote. “Further observations and dynamical studies are strongly encouraged.”
The 2020 CD3 was discovered Feb. 15 by astronomers at the University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory’s Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, and more than 30 observations of it were made two days later, according to astronomy news site EarthSky.
Kacper Wierzchos, a researcher with the Catalina Sky Survey and a member of the team that discovered the orbiting body, has been posting pictures and explanations of the findings on Twitter.
He said that while the mass is small, “it’s a big deal as out of ~ 1 million known asteroids, this is just the second asteroid known to orbit Earth (after 2006 RH120, which was also discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey).”
The news was greeted with excitement in the astronomy world, though no one seems to know how long the mini moon will stick around.
If you look at the night sky and see a bright object near the (original) moon, that’s not the mini moon. It’s Venus — the third-brightest celestial object to light the sky, after the sun and moon — which is visible this week in the west after sunset.