Earth’s Minimoons Can Help Scientists Learn More About Asteroids


Some of the space rocks that get close to our planet start orbiting it for a while and then they are discarded. Scientists have named them “minimoons,” and they believe that these space rocks could provide some information on asteroids.

This is the conclusion of a paper recently published in the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Researchers believe that the minimoons could help scientists in their research for the next decades. Until now, they only saw a minimoon with NASA’s Catalina Sky Survey in 2006. However, there should be more of them unidentified by instruments because they’re too small (some are just 1-2 meters in diameter).

An astronomer at the University of Hawaii, and the lead author of the study Robert Jedicke stated that:

“Minimoons can provide interesting science and technology testbeds in near-Earth space. The challenge lies in finding these small objects, despite their close proximity.”

Finding and Studying Minimoons With the LSST

There is some more good news: a new instrument is being built to track the minimoons. It is called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), and according to Jedicke, it is “the dream instrument for discovering tiny, fast-moving asteroids, and we expect it will regularly discover temporarily captured objects within the next five years.”

In a brainstorming session, Jedicke and his colleagues realized that they could target the minimoons for spacecraft missions and see what their composition is. A planetary scientist at the Luleå University of Technology (Sweden), and the University of Helsinki, Mikael Granvik – who is also a co-author of the study, explains:

“We don’t know whether small asteroids are monolithic blocks of rock, fragile sand piles, or something in between. Minimoons are perfect targets for bringing back significant chunks of asteroid material, shielded by a spacecraft, which could then be studied in detail back on Earth.”


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