Earth Is Surrounded By A Swarm Of Lightning-Fast "Mini-Moons" That We Can Mine Like Asteroids, New Research Reveals

Thursday, 16 August 2018 - 12:05PM
Astronomy
Space
Earth
Thursday, 16 August 2018 - 12:05PM
Earth Is Surrounded By A Swarm Of Lightning-Fast "Mini-Moons" That We Can Mine Like Asteroids, New Research Reveals
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It's easy to look at Jupiter's 63 moons and feel a little left out: Earth has only one moon and – although it's pretty nice – it'd be cool if Earth had more going for it than that one big, chalky neighbor. Fortunately for us, it turns out that the Earth is actually in possession of an unknown number of "mini-moons," tiny asteroids captured by the planet's gravity that are only a few meters in diameter. These mini-moons move extremely fast and are incredibly difficult to spot (only one has ever been confirmed), but scientists know they're out there. With the help of the new LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope), astronomers can begin tracking these mini-moons and even setting up missions to survey and mine them.

According to Dr. Robert Jedicke of the University of Hawaii, the lead author of a new study exploring the future potential of mini-moons: "The LSST 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. It has a gigantic mirror to collect light from faint objects and a camera with a tremendous field-of-view to cover the entire sky more than once a week."

Apart from finally unraveling the mysteries of what most asteroids are made of, the LSST and subsequent space missions to explore Earth's mini-moons might directly lead to a boom in asteroid mining. According to Jedicke: "Once we start finding mini-moons at a greater rate they will be perfect targets for satellite missions. We can launch short and therefore cheaper missions, using them as testbeds for larger space missions and providing an opportunity for the fledgling asteroid mining industry to test their technology."

With Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft arriving at the asteroid Ryugu this June and NASA's Osiris-REx mission checking out the asteroid Bennu, we're going to learn a lot more about asteroids in the next few years. Once LSST comes online, it will mark a new chapter in space exploration. "I hope that humans will someday venture into the solar system to explore the planets, asteroids and comets," says Jedicke. "and I see mini-moons as the first stepping stones on that voyage."

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