Earth has moons that we don't know about, and by exploring them we can learn the secrets of our solar system

  • The first minimoon was detected in 2006. The second was not discovered until 2020

  • It is believed that they may act as time capsules of a younger solar system

From time to time, Earth's gravity captures small asteroids that begin orbiting our planet decades before they return to the depths of the Solar System. We call them 'minimoons' as they temporarily become natural satellites. And there are more and more voices interested in exploring them.

A new goal in space. The first minimoon was discovered 18 years ago by astronomers on the Catalina Sky Survey. Called 2006 RH120, it is 2 to 3 meters long and enters Earth's orbit every 20 years before returning to its path around the Sun.

We only knew this one for years, but in 2020 we discovered another called CD3. Our little companions are gaining importance In solar system exploration programs they may hold the answers to mysteries of our planets past and our cosmic history.

Cosmic Pinballs. Minimoons are believed to originate from the main asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. On their long journeys they travel through the solar system like tiny time capsules that preserve the pristine condition of the younger solar system.

MIT astronomer Richard Pinzel compares them to pinballs that bounce back and forth, pulled by the planets' gravity until they find a temporary home near Earth.

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Value of minimoons. Already in 2018, A Estudio de Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences He focused on small moons because they could help better understand the formation of asteroids, the dynamics of the Earth-Moon system, and other celestial phenomena.

They also have commercial value. Minimoons can be test beds for science and technology in near-Earth space. We have started making drugs in low earth orbit, what can be done on the mini moon?

We know how to do that. Japanese Hayabusa probes went as far as the asteroid Ryugu and brought back some specimens. Among them we found stardust from before our solar system and prebiotic molecules essential to life, evidence that it may have come from space.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe brought back even more samples of an asteroid from the age of the Solar System: Bennu. Not only will they be invaluable material for study over the next decade, but they will also serve as a springboard for continued exploration of asteroids, beginning with small moons.

The hard part is finding them. These small temporary moons are easily accessible because they orbit the Earth, but they are difficult to detect because they are small and very fast. Although they are believed to be abundant, the evidence is that we have found very few.

Let's keep looking. With their proximity and wealth of cosmological secrets, they may be the next frontier in the search for answers about the origin of the solar system and, by extension, our own.

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Picture | Minimoon 2020 CD3 (Gemini Observatory)

In Xataka | Harrison Schmidt set foot on the moon in 1972. Then he discovered he was allergic.

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