From time to time, the Earth captures some “mini moons” . They are asteroids that spend a few years in orbit and leave – often without even realizing it. Now, we are about to capture a new mini moon.
While our Moon has been our companion for billions of years, and will probably abandon us only when the Sun swallows the Earth, in a few billion years, mini moons are ephemeral.
We currently know of two. The 2006 RH120 orbited the Earth between 2006 and 2007. The most recent is the 2020 CD3, which remained in Earth’s orbit between the years 2018 and 2020.
Asteroid 2020 SO, recently spotted by astronomers, is likely to be captured by Earth soon, according to the simulations.
The mini moon should be captured as early as next month, October. However, her tour will be very short, and in May 2021 she will leave for another place, following her asteroid life.
Amateur astronomer Tonny Dunn, who runs orbit simulations, posted an animation with the 2020 SO orbit on Twitter. Look
The orbit is, in fact, very different. This is due to the fact that it does not follow Earth’s orbit. The object has another trajectory, and is momentarily captured by the Earth, making this “loop movement”.
But there is a big problem
But perhaps this asteroid is not exactly an asteroid. Maybe it’s not even natural. But calm down, this is not an alien ship. It may be some human object.
Scientists are suspicious of the slow speed and the strange shape of the orbit. An asteroid travels much faster, and with a much more eccentric orbit. That is, a much more flattened orbit.
It is these details that demonstrate that the object is much more consistent with something man-made. But this thing turned out to be a kind of asteroid wandering in a strange way through space.
It was previously classified as an asteroid by NASA’s JPL Small-Body Database . Therefore, it was thought to be an asteroid of a class called Apollo.
The Apollo asteroids are a class with really different orbits, which often meet Earth. Then, as some features matched, it was automatically classified. But then some scientists became suspicious.
What object is this mini moon?
“What I’m seeing is that it is moving very slowly, which reflects its initial speed. This is essentially a big revelation, ”said Alice Gorman to Science Alert .
According to Paul Chodas , of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL-NASA), it is probably space junk . In other words, remnants of space missions.
He believes it could be a stage for the Surveyor 2 mission, launched by the United States in 1966. It was the second in a series of missions called Surveyor.
They had the function of obtaining data from the lunar surface. This served, later, for the Apollo missions , which took the first humans to the Moon, in 1969.
Now, scientists intend to make more detailed analyzes of the object to understand whether or not it is something human – or whether it is something natural.
In addition, this case demonstrates the importance of taking greater care with space waste. Today, with the appearance of reusable rockets, there is a movement for greater care with these objects.