Earth Has More Moons Than You Might Think

New scientific research has unearthed some evidence that our planet occasionally captures “mini moons”, these tiny asteroids zoom around our planets mostly as temporary natural satellites.  Mini moons usually measure from 3 to 10ft in diameter. Our Moon is estimated to be a quarter of the size of our planet.
Artist's illustration

These fast-moving objects are difficult to detect, even though there are many floating around. Sometimes these mini moons escape with our orbit before going back to revolving around the sun.

As we begin to understand and recognize more mini moons, we will be able to define what constitutes the classification of a “moon.” In general, the term moon denotes an object that is orbiting something other than the main star in the solar system, thus, our moon is like the moons circling Mars, Jupiter or other planets. Therefore, moons are not determined by what they’re made from, their size or mass.

The existence of mini moons was first discovered twelve years ago, the first mini moon was detected by astronomers, the Catalina Sky organisation. It was named 2006 RH120 and thought to be measured about 6 to 10ft in length and enters Earth’s orbit around every 20 years. Never the less, it remains our only known mini moon. 

From the white paper study, there has been some controversy around the idea that the nature of the objects after discovery on whether it was a first natural object to be orbiting us, besides the moon or whether it was another artificial object.

The Study stated: “Several launch vehicle booster stages have achieved sufficient speed for them to escape the gravitational bonds of the EMS only to be subsequently recaptured in the system after a few decades. Subsequent astrometric observations of 2006 RH120 established its provenance as a natural object because the perturbations to its trajectory caused by solar radiation pressure were inconsistent with it being artificial.”

Advances in astronomical surveys will gain an insight into the discovery of greater quantities in mini moons. There are a few ways to detect these mini moons according to researchers. 

Some of these are done through obtaining spectra of colors, measuring area-to-mass ratio (AMR) based on the magnitude of the effect of solar radiation pressure on its trajectory and radar observations.                                         

Currently, there is a telescope being constructed in northern Chile called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) – this telescope is up to the task of mini-moon sighting.

There are many benefits to the research of mini moons in that we can develop and test planetary defence technologies for example deflecting an asteroid. Validate and improve navigation and control algorithms as well as to test close – proximity protocols for safe operations and establish the possibility of asteroid mining technologies for future commercial applications. A number of natural satellites can be gathered by a planet through the force of its gravity for e.g. Jupiter has 79 confirmed moons and Saturn has 62 confirmed moons.                                                 

Together the moons and mini moons of Earth, could prove to be the literal stepping stones for the rest of the galaxy.                                                             

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