Astronomers Discover New 'Mini-Moon' Orbiting Earth

And we shall call it... Mini Moon.

Astronomers say Earth has a new, temporary companion in addition to the moon. A tiny asteroid, known as 2020 CD3, was captured by Earth's gravity well, bringing the object into its orbit about three years ago. It was detected by Kacper Wiezchos, a researcher with the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab.

"BIG NEWS," Wierzchos tweeted on Tuesday adding a gif of the images that helped him detect Earth's new little buddy. "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."

The object isn't large by any means - about the size of a large SUV - as it measures approximately 6 feet to 11 feet across. The discovery is a big deal for astronomers because it's only the second asteroid known to orbit Earth out of roughly 1 million known space rocks.

The object's official designation in The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center lists 2020 CD3 as being "temporarily bound to the Earth," and that no "evidence of perturbations due to solar radiation pressure is seen, and no link to a known artificial object has been found."

The center added that further observations of the object are "strongly encouraged."

Because the object is bound by gravity to the Earth, it's unlike to pose any threat. The last asteroid to get captured in Earth's orbit was 2006 RH120, which was captured by Earth in June 2006. It hung around until September 2007 before swinging back out into the solar system.

The Catalina Sky Survey is a NASA-funded project that aims to scan the night sky and track near-Earth objects, especially any that might pose a threat to Earth.

Photo: Catalina Sky Survey

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