Astronomy

Has NASA confirmed earth now has a second moon orbiting the planet?

Has NASA confirmed earth now has a second moon orbiting the planet?


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Several sites claim NASA has confirmed a second moon orbiting earth. This is the Asteroid 2016 HO3. One source states The newfound quasi-satellite/moon-2016 HO3, is likely larger than 120 feet (40 m) and smaller than 300 feet (100 m).

http://www.physics-astronomy.com/2016/06/nasa-just-confirmed-that-earth-has-new.html#.V3tdaNIrLIU

Question Is this claim true circling the internet and can anyone post a link from NASAs offical web site to conclude this is true?


It's not true; this object is not a moon of Earth's.

Here's a NASA/JPL announcement of it. 2016 HO3 is the "name" being used for it at the moment.

They're calling it a "quasi-moon". It's in an orbit that is in resonance with Earth's but is not permanently bound. (It's not the first object to be found with such properties too.)


2016 HO3 does not really orbit Earth. It orbits the Sun in such a way that it happens to loop around Earth at distances of 0.1 to 0.25 AU. Earth's gravitational sphere of influence is much smaller, about 0.01 AU at most; outside that radius, the Sun is the dominant attractor.

The Minor Planet Center has an orbital diagram which you can examine in 3D. Earth's orbit is light blue. 2016 HO3's orbit is orange to the north of Earth's orbital plane and medium blue to the south. A dark gray line passes through the Sun and the asteroid's perihelion and aphelion. It's a moderately eccentric, moderately inclined orbit around the Sun with a 1.00 year period.

In the course of its solar orbit, the asteroid alternately moves slower, outside, and to the north of Earth's orbit; and faster, inside, and to the south. In a rotating frame of reference fixed on Earth, as in the video you've seen, this looks like an oddly shaped, highly inclined, retrograde loop around Earth, but it is not due to Earth's gravity. Earth's slight influence helps to maintain this coincidental pattern but is not nearly enough to capture the asteroid.


Earth Has Had a Secret Second Moon for Months Now

Don’t get too attached, though. It’s not sticking around.

This is going to sound preposterous, but I promise it’s true: Earth has another moon.

It is not the kind that will illuminate the night sky. It’s invisible to the naked eye and too tiny to do any classic moon moves, like tugging on the planet’s oceans. But it’s there, orbiting the Earth, accompanying us on our journey around the sun.

A pair of astronomers discovered the miniature moon on the night of February 15. It showed up in the nightly observations of the Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-funded project in Arizona. The survey is designed to study asteroids and comets near Earth, the kind that could potentially menace the planet if they got too close. To Kacper Wierzchos and Teddy Pruyne, the mystery object appeared as a few pixels of light moving quickly across a dusky, fixed background.

Researchers at other observatories and amateur astronomers around the world raced to monitor the newcomer in the sky, collecting as much data as they could. When they calculated its orbit, they were baffled. The object wasn’t a newcomer at all. So far, their work suggests that the object has been moving around us, gravitationally bound to the Earth for the past many months—at least a year, but potentially closer to three. We’ve had a tiny new moon all this time, and we didn’t know about it.

So what exactly is this thing?

Astronomers don’t know everything yet—it’s been less than two weeks!—but they’ve identified some traits. The object is about the size of a compact car and traces a rambling loop around Earth about every four months or so. As the object passed by Earth on its path through space, the planet’s gravity pulled it close. And in that moment, it became a moon.

Earth's new mini-moon against a backdrop of stars, as seen by Hawaii's Gemini telescope (The International Gemini Observatory / NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory / AURA / G. Fedorets)

At first, astronomers thought the new moon could be a piece of space junk, a rocket part discarded after a successful launch. To say conclusively, astronomers would need to use powerful telescopes to study the sunlight reflected off the object, which can reveal its composition from afar. There’s at least a small chance that it could be a chunk of our moon that broke off after an impact, one astronomer told me. But the latest observations suggest that the object is probably an asteroid, one of the many floating around near Earth.

“It’s just a chance occurrence,” Kat Volk, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, told me. “They just have to come in at the right speed and the right angle. The vast majority of things that are whizzing by the Earth do not get even temporarily captured into orbit they just keep whizzing by, with their trajectory just a little bit tweaked by the Earth’s gravity.”

Astronomers have named the mini-moon, for now, 2020 CD3. As excited as they were to find it, they weren’t completely shocked. The Catalina Sky Survey found one before, in 2006. Although they’ve now seen only two of them, astronomers suspect more are out there. Some estimate that, considering how many bits of asteroids reside near Earth, at least one tiny moon is lassoed around the planet at any given time. Gravity, after all, has shown itself to be a skilled thief some of the outermost stars in our Milky Way were torn from another galaxy as it passed by. A rock the size of a car is an easy steal for Earth’s gravitational forces.

These forces, along with the moon’s own gravity, have put 2020 CD3 on a pretty quirky orbit, unlike the other neat loops of the solar system. Below, the white band represents the orbit of the moon, with the Earth inside. The tiny moon’s orbit is in red, looping around like yarn:

(2/3) The object has just been announced by the MPC and its orbit shows that it entered Earth's orbit some three years ago. Here is a diagram of the orbit created with the orbit simulator written by Tony Dunn: pic.twitter.com/2wsJGtexiO

— Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020

Like other near-Earth objects, 2020 CD3 probably originated in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. With the help of computer simulations, astronomers can try to trace its path back in time. “If you get enough data, you can conclusively trace these looping spaghetti paths through the Earth-moon system and find out where it entered the system,” says Eric Christensen, a University of Arizona astronomer who works on the Catalina Sky Survey, and who discovered the mini-moon in 2006.

Mini-moons like 2020 CD3 are, unfortunately, “temporarily captured objects.” The object discovered in 2006 escaped Earth’s orbit and went on its merry way, less than a year after it was found. 2020 CD3 will eventually leave us, too. “This isn’t an object that is stably orbiting the Earth like the moon is,” Christensen says. “This is a fairly tenuous connection to the Earth. It’s getting tugged on by the moon and tugged on by the Earth.”

The latest observations suggest that 2020 CD3 is already moving away from Earth for good. “Unfortunately, we are catching this one on its way back out,” says Bill Gray, who provided astronomical software that helped pinpoint the object. “It’s getting fainter. Already, it’s faint enough that if the Catalina Sky Survey looked at it now, it wouldn’t see it.” Gray predicts that the mini-moon will escape Earth’s orbit in a matter of weeks. It will most likely return to orbiting the sun, although there’s a chance it could someday head straight to Earth, where it would burn up in the atmosphere in a glittering meteor display.

The thought of losing a new moon so soon after uncovering its existence is a little depressing, so I asked Volk whether, someday, Earth’s gravity could ensnare an object to stay, perhaps even one that we could see in the night sky, shining alongside the original moon. “It would be possible, but it would be extremely unlikely,” Volk said. “You would need the [object] to come in and have a gravitational interaction with our existing moon in just the perfect configuration that would tweak its orbit and put it onto a stable orbit around the Earth. You can’t really come in from a heliocentric orbit and get captured into a stable orbit.”

Sigh. Back to marveling at our usual moon, then, that reliable glow in the night sky, as enduring as the stars around it. From our vantage point, the skies can seem predictable and immutable. The fleeting miniature moon provides a lovely reminder that our corner of the universe is, in fact, rather lively, sometimes more than we can know.


New 'mini-moon' orbiting Earth — for now, astronomers say

A visiting mini-moon is circling Earth, according to astronomers who discovered the cosmic squatter in our planet's orbit.

The tiny asteroid, dubbed 2020 CD3, was spotted by astronomers in Tucson, Arizona, on Feb. 15.

"BIG NEWS," Kacper Wierzchos, a researcher with the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab, tweeted Tuesday. "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 said that the object measures about 6 feet to 11 feet across and that its orbit suggests that it entered Earth's orbit around three years ago.

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He added that the discovery is a "big deal" because, out of roughly 1 million known space rocks, this is "just the second asteroid known to orbit Earth (after 2006 RH120, which was also discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey)."

BIG NEWS (thread 1/3). 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. Here are the discovery images. pic.twitter.com/zLkXyGAkZl

— Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020

The cosmic interloper was officially cataloged by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center on Tuesday. The center, founded in 1947, collects observational data on asteroids, comets and natural satellites in the solar system.

In its official designation, the IAU said observations "indicate that this object is temporarily bound to Earth." The organization added: "No evidence of perturbations due to solar radiation pressure is seen, and no link to a known artificial object has been found. Further observations and dynamical studies are strongly encouraged."

The last asteroid to get caught in Earth's orbit was 2006 RH120. The space rock, which orbits the sun and passes close to Earth every few decades, was captured by the planet's gravity in June 2006 and stayed until around September 2007, before it swung back out into the solar system.

More information about the mini-moon could be revealed in the coming weeks and months as astronomers continue to observe it.

The Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-funded project, aims to scan the cosmos to discover and track near-Earth objects, particularly those that could pose a threat to Earth.

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.


Earth’s New Mini-Moon Is Leaving Soon

Not only does Earth have a second, miniature moon, it may have been there for at least a year and nobody noticed, the Catalina Sky Survey announced late last month.

The mini-moon was first spotted on February 15th when two astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona watched a white blur shoot across a backdrop of motionless stars. It was an unexpected find: no known asteroid or space junk was registered on its orbit. The Arizona astronomers Teddy Pruyne and Kacper Wierzchos registered the object, named 2020 CD3, in an online database run by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Then, astronomers around the world moved quickly to confirm it. For now, the small space rock is tracing a complex path around Earth. But experts say it could break away as soon as next week or as late as April.

“Unfortunately, we are catching this one on its way back out,” Bill Gray, whose software helped astronomers pinpoint the mini-moon’s location, tells the Atlantic’s Marina Koren. “It’s getting fainter. Already, it’s faint enough that if the Catalina Sky Survey looked at it now, it wouldn’t see it.”

Catalina Sky Survey discovered 2020 CD3 in these four photos, each capturing 30 seconds of action. The minimoon is circled in green. (Photo by Catalina Sky Survey, University of Arizona)

By February 25, the international Gemini Observatory captured a photo of the visiting asteroid. The 26-foot telescope followed 2020 CD3 as it sailed past, making the stars behind it look like streaks of color and the tiny moon look like a white spot in the center of the frame.

This is the second time that an unexpected asteroid has been spotted circling Earth. The first mini-moon was registered in 2006 and departed by 2007. Earth gains mini-moons when asteroids orbiting the sun try to skate by Earth, and the planet’s gravity pulls them off track just enough that they stick around, instead of just slightly bending their path or taking a nose-dive toward Earth’s surface.

It’s a delicate balance, but University of Canterbury astronomer Michele Bannister tells Rebecca Boyle at the New York Times that mini-moons may actually be very common.

“They are orbiting roughly the same space that we are, and some will get into the right spot where it can nudge into a ballet with us. And then it’s like any dance: you do a couple spins together, and go your separate ways,” she tells the Times. “There’s something beautifully transient about it.”

By another estimate, Earth probably has at least one two-foot-wide mini-moon at any given time, and one the size of 2020 CD3 about once every decade, per the Times.

This diagram shows the orbit of 2020 CD3 in red and orange, representing it's capture by Earth's gravity and eventual ejection from the the Earth-moon system. The white band is our moon's orbit Earth (not shown) would be at center of the band. (Image by Tony Dunn, GravitySimulator)

Wierzchos described the mini-moon’s orbit as “chaotic,” per Space’s Elizabeth Howell. The mini-moon is being tugged not only by Earth’s gravity, but also by our long-term moon, so 2020-CD3 has been as close as one-fifth the average distance between Earth and the moon, and as far as four and a half times the same measurement. Based on the software that models the mini-moon’s orbit, it probably joined Earth in about 2017, and will only stick around for a few more weeks.

In the statement by Catalina Sky Survey, the astronomers explained that it’s probably not the leftovers from an abandoned spacecraft because it doesn’t seem to be pushed around by solar radiation pressure—the force exerted by light pushing on an object. An empty spacecraft is easy to push around, compared to a dense piece of rock.

But, Wierzchos adds to Space, "The possibility it is artificial still exists, so I am trying to be cautious with every statement. I'd hate it to be artificial after [everyone is] making a fuss [about the discovery]."

Because not many observatories have gotten a clear look at the mini-moon, astronomers haven’t had a chance to take measurements that would reveal what it’s made of. If it’s the most common type of asteroid, then it’s probably smaller than a compact car. At this point, only the largest professional telescopes can see it now.

It seems like we only just met 2020 CD3, and when it leaves, it probably won’t be goodbye forever. The 2006 mini-moon is due to return around August 2028, and our newest visitor is likely to return someday as well. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimates about a three percent chance that it will collide with Earth in the next 100 years. If that happens, it will mostly burn up in the atmosphere without causing any damage on the ground. But it’s more likely that the asteroid will just fly by or take another do-si-do around Earth.

For now, it’s on its way out—so consider waving goodbye next time you look up at the night sky.


Mystery solved: NASA confirmed the space object that just zipped past Earth is a 1960s rocket booster

A mysterious object zipped past Earth on Tuesday, coming within 32,000 miles of our planet. After months of head-scratching, scientists finally identified this visitor from beyond.

It's not an asteroid. It's not a comet. It's not an alien spaceship. On Wednesday, NASA confirmed that the object, formerly known as 2020 SO, was the booster of a Centaur rocket that launched in 1966.

The rocket carried the Surveyor 2 mission, which was set to land on the moon but went into a death spiral when one of its thrusters failed to fire with the others. Surveyor 2 crashed into the lunar surface, but the rocket booster had separated from the spacecraft shortly after pushing it toward its lunar destination. The booster then drifted, unseen, into the abyss of space.

Now Earth's gravity has briefly captured the rocket booster once again. It's like a tiny moon orbiting our planet and set to loop Earth twice before escaping the planet's pull in March. Then it will continue on a new orbit around the sun.

Its Tuesday flyby was the dead booster's closest approach to our planet.

A telescope on the Hawaiian island Maui first spotted the space object in September. Its orbit seemed unnatural, following unusually close to Earth and remaining within the same plane as our planet. Most asteroids have tilted orbits, dipping above or below Earth as they journey around the sun.

"I was suspicious immediately," Paul Chodas, the director of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, told The New York Times.

Like Chodas, many scientists had suspected that this object was the Surveyor 2 booster, since reverse simulations of its orbit placed it so close to Earth in September 1966 that it could have easily come from our planet.

To test the theory, scientists used a NASA telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea to watch 2020 SO as it flew past Earth. They logged the object's spectrum data — wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that act like fingerprints for objects in space. Different wavelengths represent different chemical compounds.

Scientists then compared the 2020 SO spectra with that of a known Centaur rocket booster, which has been orbiting Earth since it launched a satellite in 1971. The fingerprints matched.

"This conclusion was the result of a tremendous team effort," Vishnu Reddy, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona who led the study, said in a press release. "We were finally able to solve this mystery."


Nasa announces discovery of 'second Earth' in deep space

Nasa has announced that it has found an extraordinarily similar planet to Earth orbiting around a distant star.

The planet, Kepler-452b, is described as a larger, older Earth and is located around a star 1,400 light years from Earth.

It is the first terrestrial planet found in the habitable zone in a star just like our sun. Nasa said it is about 60 percent larger than Earth and lies in the constellation Cygnus.

The exact nature of the planet is not known specifically, but Nasa's modelling suggesters it is a rocky planet, about five times as massive as Earth, orbiting its star once every 385 days.

The planet's star is 1.5 billion years older than our own, and is now growing hotter and brighter -- as our star will do in about a billion years.

Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at Nasa's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said that the data showed planets similar to Earth were "common throughout the galaxy".

The planet is so similar to Earth the SETI Institute is now listening out for signals from the star Kepler 452 -- though so far it has had no luck. "On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."

Nasa also announced that 521 new exoplanet candidates had been discovered, 12 of which have diameters between one and two times Earths, and orbit in their star's habitable zone. Nine orbit stars similar to ours in size and temperature.


Nasa confirms ‘asteroid’ spotted above Earth was actually a rocket booster from the 1960s

Nasa has confirmed that an object spotted by its asteroid-hunting facilities was actually something else entirely.

The object, known as 2020 SO, is in fact a Centaur rocket booster from the 1960s, the space agency said.

It probably made its way into space with the 1966’s Surveyor 2 mission – which was intended as the second lunar lander to arrive on the Moon, but got lost on the way – and has been floating around since then. Earlier this year, that long orbit brought it back towards Earth, where it was discovered in September by astronomers who were looking for asteroids.

As scientists examined it, they found that its orbit would have brought it close to Earth a few times over the decades. One of those close passes, in 1966, was so close that it appeared to suggest that it might actually have set off from Earth in the first place.

New research saw scientists use Nasa’s Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, which is based on Maunakea in Hawai’i. Vishnu Reddy from the University of Arizona and his team conducted spectroscopy observations of the object in an attempt to understand what it might be made of and what it could be.

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"Due to extreme faintness of this object following CNEOS prediction it was a challenging object to characterize" said Professor Reddy in a statement. "We got color observations with the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, that suggested 2020 SO was not an asteroid."

The team then compared the object with 301 stainless steel, which was used to build the Centaur rocket boosters in the 1960s. Unexpectedly, they found that it was a little different – but wondered if the difference might be a result of the fact they were comparing steel from a lab with a sample that has spent half a century floating in space.

"We knew that if we wanted to compare apples to apples, we'd need to try to get spectral data from another Centaur rocket booster that had been in Earth orbit for many years to then see if it better matched 2020 SO's spectrum," said Professor Reddy.

"Because of the extreme speed at which Earth-orbiting Centaur boosters travel across the sky, we knew it would be extremely difficult to lock on with the IRTF long enough to get a solid and reliable data set."

In December, however, they found themselves in luck: another rocket booster that left Earth in 1971 was observed in Earth’s orbit. They could then compare the readings from 2020 SO – and found that they were remarkable similar after all.

2020 SO made its closest approach to Earth on Tuesday. It will stay within the Earth’s gravitational pull until March, when it will escape and fall back into a new orbit around the Sun.

Nasa noted that being able to tell the difference between natural and artificial objects will be key as it continues its efforts to catalogue the near-Earth objects that could threaten our planet, and as a variety of countries fill up the space above our heads with yet more launches.


Astronomers Discover a Tiny New Temporary Moon for the Earth. Welcome to the Family 2020 CD3

Astronomers are increasingly interested in Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs. There are ongoing efforts to find them all and catalog them all, and to find out which ones might pose a collision threat. Now some astronomers with the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey have found a new, tiny, temporary moon for Earth.

On February 15th, astronomers Teddy Pruyne and Kacper Wierzchos, with the Catalina Sky Survey, spotted a tiny, dim object moving through the sky. Multiple other astronomers at six observatories around the world confirmed the discovery. What was it?

BIG NEWS (thread 1/3). 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. Here are the discovery images. pic.twitter.com/zLkXyGAkZl

&mdash Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020

The IAU’s Minor Planet Center chimed in, saying “Orbit integrations…indicate that this object is temporarily bound to the Earth.” Their statement went on to say that “no link to a known artificial object has been found.” So the tiny body is gravitationally bound to Earth, and it’s not a satellite.

That really only leaves one conclusion: it’s a tiny moon.

Actually, scientists aren’t exactly calling it a straight-up moon yet. They’re calling it a Temporarily Captured Object (TCO) or possible mini-moon. And it has a name: 2020 CD3. The TCO tag means that little 2020 CD3, which is about the size of a washing machine, or a car, is likely a captured asteroid.

And it may not stay captured for very long.

Wierzchos’ subsequent tweets told us more:

(2/3) The object has just been announced by the MPC and its orbit shows that it entered Earth's orbit some three years ago. Here is a diagram of the orbit created with the orbit simulator written by Tony Dunn: pic.twitter.com/2wsJGtexiO

&mdash Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020

So 2020 CD3 has only been our moon for about three years.

Amateur astronomer Tony Dunn chimed in with more detail on Earth’s new hitch-hiking moon. In his tweet, he uses the internal designation of C26FED2.

Earth may have a new minimoon. C26FED2 may have spent the last 3 years orbiting Earth after being captured through L1. This simulation is in a rotating frame which keeps L1 and L2 stationary. Read @BadAstronomer's blog on minimoons. https://t.co/EqhmCf1Flhhttps://t.co/dAQHbA3skC pic.twitter.com/3NHqNKdTe3

&mdash Tony Dunn (@tony873004) February 16, 2020

The new moonlet is only between 6.2 and 11.5 feet in diameter. It’s albedo is similar to a C-type asteroid, which are carbonaceous bodies.

(3/3) The object has a diameter between 1.9 – 3.5 m assuming a C-type asteroid albedo. But 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).

&mdash Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020

This is not the first asteroid to be captured by Earth, as Wierzchos points it. In 2006, astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey discovered another tiny, captured asteroid, named 2006 RH120. It was tiny too, with a diameter between 2 to 3 meters.

Normally, this one orbits the Sun. But about every 20 years, it comes close to the Earth-Moon system and can enter orbit around Earth temporarily. That’s called Temporary Satellite Capture (TCS). Rather than an asteroid, astronomers think it might be a piece of the Moon that was ejected by an impact. 2006 RH120 has left Earth’s orbit and now orbits the Sun.

The newly-discovered 2020 CD3 won’t be sticking around for long. In April of this year, it will depart, leaving us to wonder what might have been, what poetry may have been written in its name, and what the heck this means for astrologers, who will no doubt re-calibrate all their horoscopes and offer refunds to their customers.

In the end, whatever happens to our little visiting moon, it’s good to know that we can spot things in space as small as a washing machine.


Astronomers say Earth has a new mini-moon, for now

An asteroid has been caught in our planet's gravity, but it'll float away soon.

Earth, as seen from the Moon in 1968, could have pulled a new mini-moon into its gravity.

We have a new space neighbor, at least for a while. Astronomers at the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey spotted an asteroid that's caught in Earth's gravity, but the space agency's Center for Near-Earth Objects Studies noted that it's on its way out of our planet's orbit.

"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," Kacper Wierzchos tweeted Tuesday.

BIG NEWS (thread 1/3). 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. Here are the discovery images. pic.twitter.com/zLkXyGAkZl

— Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020

Wierzchos calculated that the asteroid is between 1.9 and 3.5 meters in diameter. The Minor Planet Center acknowledged the near-Earth object, and it apparently entered Earth's orbit around three years ago. The Catalina Sky Survey is based at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson.

In an email confirming the CSS discovery, CNEOS scientist Shantanu Naidu noted that 2020 CD3 made its final close approach to Earth on Feb. 13 and is on its way out of Earth's gravitational influence.

"So far 2020 CD3 does not appear to be a part of some lost spacecraft hardware but there isn't enough data yet to rule that out," they noted.

It's the second asteroid that's known to have entered Earth's orbit. The previous one, 2006 RH120, was also discovered by the CSS and orbited Earth for 18 months over 2006 and 2007, as noted by science writer Corey S. Powell.


NASA confirms mysterious object orbiting the Earth IS a rocket booster from ill-fated 1966 Surveyor 2 moon mission

It is a mystery that puzzled scientists for months, but NASA has officially confirmed the object temporarily orbiting Earth is a discarded piece of the 1966 Surveyor 2 rocket.

Dubbed 2020 SO, the object was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS survey in Hawaii on September 17 and initially classified as an asteroid.

However, NASA's top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, had his suspicions due to the object's slight, but distinctly curved orbit.

Chodas immediately thought of the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed moon mission, as the object's dimensions matched that of the debris.

His theory has now been proven by a team from the University of Arizona, led by Vishnu Reddy, which used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth.

The team compared data from both the object and 1971 Centaur, and found they have the same composition - 𧷯initively concluding 2020 SO to also be a Centaur rocket booster.'

'Today's news was super gratifying!,' Chodas said via email. 'It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.'

It is a mystery that puzzled scientists for months, but NASA has officially confirmed the object temporarily orbiting Earth is a discarded piece of the 1966 Surveyor 2 rocket

Astronomers were able to solve the mystery after 2020 SO came within 31,605 miles of Earth around 3:50am Tuesday, allowing them to gather images and data.

ɽue to extreme faintness of this object following Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) prediction it was a challenging object to characterize' said Reddy.

'We got color observations with the Large Binocular Telescope or LBT that suggested 2020 SO was not an asteroid.'

Reddy and his team sifted through a series of follow up observations to analyze 2020 SO's composition.

The object, dubbed 2020 SO, was first classified as an asteroid, but an analysis reveals it is the lost Centaur (pictured) upper stage rocket from NASA's Surveyor 2 Astronomers compared 2020 SO's composition with another Centaur rocket booster still in orbit. The results showed the two matched, allowing them to confirm it is the lost 1966 rocket booster

They used NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii and compared the spectrum data from 2020 SO with that of 301 stainless steel - the material Centaur rocket boosters were made of in the 1960's.

The team was unable to find a match at first, but then realized it was because they were analyzing fresh steel in a lab against steel that has been exposed to the harsh conditions of space weather for 54 years.

'We knew that if we wanted to compare apples to apples, weɽ need to try to get spectral data from another Centaur rocket booster that had been in Earth orbit for many years to then see if it better matched 2020 SO's spectrum,' said Reddy.

The Centaur rocket booster is currently stuck in Earth's gravity and orbiting the planet, but it will escape from our planet's grips by March 2021 and embark on its journey around the sun once again

�use of the extreme speed at which Earth-orbiting Centaur boosters travel across the sky, we knew it would be extremely difficult to lock on with the IRTF longenough to get a solid and reliable data set.'

During the early hours of December 1, the team observed another Centuar D rocket booster that has been in Geostationary Transit Orbit since 1971.

This allowed Reddy and his team to compare it against 2020 SO and found the spectra to be consistent with each another - definitively concluding 2020 SO to also be a Centaur rocket booster.

'This conclusion was the result of a tremendous team effort,' said Reddy.

'We were finally able to solve this mystery because of the great work of Pan-STARRS, Paul Chodas and the team at CNEOS, LBT, IRTF, and the observations around the world.'

Choda played a key role in NASA solving the puzzle.

When the object was first announced, he decided to do his own investigation by 'turning back the clock' to see the object's orbit backwards.

He had hoped this would reveal where it had been before making its way into Earth's gravity.

The method showed 2020 SO had come somewhat close to Earth a few times over the decades, but its approach in late 1966 would have been close enough that it may have originated from Earth.

The Surveyor 2 lunar lander was launched toward the Moon on September 20, 1966 aboard an Atlas-Centaur rocket. The mission was tasked with reconnoitering the lunar surface ahead of the Apollo missions, which led to the first crewed lunar landing in 1969

'One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,' Chodas said earlier this month.

'It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.'

The Centaur rocket is currently stuck in Earth's gravity and orbiting the planet.

It will escape from our planet's grip by March 2021 and embark on its journey around the sun once again - but it will make another visit in 2036.

The Surveyor 2 lunar lander was launched toward the Moon on September 20, 1966 aboard an Atlas-Centaur rocket.

The mission was tasked with reconnoitering the lunar surface ahead of the Apollo missions, which led to the first crewed lunar landing in 1969.

Shortly after lift-off, Surveyor 2 successfully separated from its Centaur upper-stage booster as intended.

But control of the spacecraft was lost a day later when one of its thrusters failed to ignite, throwing the craft into a spin.

The spacecraft crashed into the Moon just southeast of Copernicus crater on September 23, 1966.

The spent Centaur upper-stage rocket sailed past the Moon and disappeared into an unknown orbit about the Sun.

But, NASA and other astronomers may find that it has come home for a brief visit.

SURVEYOR 2: THE ILL-FATED LUNAR LANDER THAT LOST ITS WAY

Surveyor 2 was supposed to be the second lunar lander launched by NASA as part of the American Surveyor program to explore the Moon.

It was launched in September 1966 from Cape Kennedy in Florida aboard an Atlas-Centaur rocket.

1966 was a busy year for lunar missions - USSR spaceship Luna 9 became the first to achieve a soft landing on the Moon and send photos.

In May Surveyor 1 became the first US spaceship to land and send photos.

Then in September Surveyor 2 was due to do the same thing - but from a different site - but it crash landed.

Surveyor 2 suffered a mid-course correction failure that resulted in the spaceship loosing control.

Contact was lost on September 22, two days after it was first launched.

During the mid-course correction maneuver thruster failed to ignite - causing it to become unbalanced and tumble for 54 hours.

It crashed near Copernicus crater on the lunar surface on September 23 - three days after launch.