First Color Image Of Earth’s Potential New Mini-Moon

Color image of 2020 CD3, which moves so fast that by tracking it, it creates the impression that stars are trailing behind it. The international Gemini Observatory/NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA/G. Fedorets

Not even two weeks ago, astronomers discovered that Earth is being orbited by a possible new mini-moon, called 2020 CD3, which has spent the last three years in a rollercoaster orbit around Earth.

The object was first observed on February 15 by astronomers Kacper Wierzchos and Theodore Pruyne at Mount Lemmon Observatory. News of the observation quickly spread and other astronomers followed up on the data. A team at the International Gemini Observatory has now captured a multi-filter image showing the mysterious object in color.

“The stars are trailing because this object is moving relative to the background stars and the 8-meter (26-foot) Gemini North telescope was tracking on this object,” lead astronomer Grigori Fedorets, from Queen’s University Belfast, said in a statement.

The object is a few meters across with an orbit that takes it far away from Earth, past the moon to millions of kilometers, before coming back in again. Observing it is far from easy, which is why it has only been spotted recently after having been around for probably several years.

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The orbit of 2020 CD3 around the Earth. The white band is the orbit of the Moon. Tony Dunn via Wikimedia Common

“Obtaining the images was a scramble for the Gemini team because the object is quickly becoming fainter as it moves away from Earth. It is expected to be ejected from Earth’s orbit altogether in April,” John Blakeslee, head of Science at the international Gemini Observatory, explained.

The object is strongly believed to be of natural origin and in an orbit that will qualify it to be the second mini-moon ever discovered. Fedorets' team and many others are continuing their observations to learn as much as possible about 2020 CD3.

“Additional observations to refine its position will help us determine this mystery object’s orbit and its possible origin,” said the researcher. “Either way this is a very compelling object and needs more data to determine what it is.”

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