While everybody knows that there’s just one moon orbiting the Earth, National Public Radio (NPR) reported April 3 how a new study “by an international team of astronomers concludes that everybody is dead wrong about that.” In turn, NPR featured an interview with Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii who explained: “At any time, there are one or two 1-meter diameter asteroids in orbit around the Earth.” Moreover, Jedicke could not explain why these mysterious “minimoons that orbit Earth don’t follow nice, smooth paths because they seem to dance around the planet;” while nobody’s sure when these buzzing new orbiting asteroids or “minimoons” first appeared. Either way, college astronomers from Oregon State University here in the western town of Corvallis, are focusing on these rogue asteroids as part of a forthcoming exhibit for OSU’s famed Da Vinci Days that’s an annual celebration of art, science and technology that’s held on the OSU campus during the third weekend in July.
Like its namesake Leonardo da Vinci, the festival embraces the unknown in science; while one student astronomer told Huliq during a recent interview that: “It would be cool if these minimoons are part of a duplicate Earth. Da Vinci would be on it for sure.”
Crazy "minimoons" now orbiting Earth
The idea of the “Earth capturing a minimoon,” was presented April 3 during an NPR interview that featured expert astronomers from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii explaining an image with “squiggly lines” that simulated how a “minimoon is temporarily captured by the Earth. The asteroid in this image – titled “JM8” is “nearly 2 miles across and more than 1,000 times larger than other minimoons,” explained institute experts during the NPR program.
"We know that there is a population of asteroids in orbit around the sun that can come close to the Earth at some point in their orbit. Mostly these go whizzing by, not even slowing down to wave. "But there's a very small subcomponent of that population that are on orbits that are very much like the Earth's,” explained Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii during an April 3 NPR interview.
Jedicke also explained that when “these objects go by the Earth, they do so very slowly. It's like when you're jogging on a circular track, and a slightly faster runner passes you.” In turn, Jedicke explained: "And by coming by so slowly, there's a small chance they can be captured by the Earth's gravity and go into orbit around the Earth,” while he noted the best estimates say about a million or more small objects pass close to the Earth every year.
In turn, Jedicke colleagues: Mikael Granvik from the University of Finland and Jeremie Vaubaillon of the Observatorie de Paris (a key player in the famed COMETA report), told NPR that they did write a computer program to calculate how many of these rogue or mystery “minimoons” would be “caught by Earth’s gravity and go into orbit.”
Details about mystery objects now buzzing the Earth
For the most part, the astronomers told NPR that their calculations indicate “that most of these objects are no larger than 3 feet across.”
Also, for about once every 50 years, “there's one the size of a garbage truck, and maybe once every 100,000 years, there'll be an asteroid that's about the size of a football field in orbit around the Earth," Jedicke says.
In turn, Oregon State University student astronomers searching the night sky for these rogue minimoons have taken heart because Jedicke noted that because the minimoons are as large as the OSU football field, “that's big enough to be seen with the naked eye.”
However, Jedicke and his team explained to NPR that “no one of these minimoons sticks around for very long. That's because while they are captured by Earth's gravity, it's a loose capture.”
Moreover, Jedicke explained: "So loose that little gravitational nudges from the other planets in the solar system or from the moon can eventually just sort of dislodge them from the Earth's gravity and allow them to go back into orbit around the sun.”
Jedicke then noted how “new research about these minimoons now appears in the journal Icarus.”
What’s real in a world with two Earths?
Because “ambiguous” is a fearful world for many people today who don’t think outside the box and want answers now, Jedicke and his team are not fully believed; as was the case in centuries past when anyone with original ideas about life outside the Earth was persecuted.
Thus, NPR contacted Paul Chodas, at the somewhat secret “Near-Earth Object Program” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to get a reality check on these new views about other Earth’s or “minimoons” that Jedicke and his team are floating in the wake of their view that more than one moon orbits the Earth today.
In turn, Choads told NPR during an April 3 interview that: “We keep track of all the asteroids in the Earth’s vicinity. And there was one very small asteroid which was discovered to be in orbit around the Earth. We didn't know that right away. ... We thought it might be an old rocket stage or some other junk left over from the space program. But the trajectory indicated it was an asteroid.”
Chodas also says now that “there's good reason to believe they're there, astronomers will be able to adjust their observations to keep an eye out for these temporary minimoons.”
Mystery asteroids buzzing Earth not new
It was back on Sunday, April 1, that NPR also reported an advisory from NASA stating that “an asteroid the size of a passenger jet will zoom close by Earth. “The asteroid 2012 EG5 will be closer than the moon when it passes Earth at 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT). The space rock is about 150 feet wide (46 meters),” according to a NASA update.
"Asteroid 2012 EG5 will safely pass Earth on April 1," scientists with NASA's Asteroid Watch program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., wrote in a Twitter statement; while also stating how Asteroid 2012 EG5 is the third relatively small asteroid to buzz the Earth in seven days. NASA said “two smaller asteroids passed near Earth on Monday, March 26.
In turn, NPR reported how “the bus-size asteroid 2012 FP35 came within 96,000 miles (154,000 km) of Earth. It was followed a few hours later by asteroid 2012 FS35, which is the size of a car and passed Earth at a range of 36,000 miles (58,000 km). Like asteroid 2012 EG5, those two smaller space rocks posed no risk of hitting Earth. Those space rocks were so small they would not survive the trip through Earth's atmosphere, even if they were aimed at our planet, Asteroid Watch researchers said.”
NASA also reported how “Asteroid 2012 EG5 was discovered on March 13 by astronomers searching for near-Earth space rocks. Another space rock, the asteroid 2012 FA57, was discovered on March 28 and flew by Earth on April 4 when it passed at a range just beyond the orbit of the moon.”
“Scientists with NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at JPL and other teams of astronomers regularly monitor the sky for larger, potentially dangerous asteroids to determine if they pose an impact threat to Earth,” added NPR.
Trojan asteroid from 2011
It was last July that NASA reported how the “Trojan asteroid tagged along on Earth’s orbit.”
In turn, both BBC News out of London and NPR reported how this asteroid in the Earth’s orbit around the sun “had been hiding from view;” while the report noted that it turns out “the moon’s not the Earth’s only traveling companion. Space scientists have discovered an asteroid that's been following our fair planet for thousands of years, at least — and there may be many more where it came from, according to a recent study.”
Moreover, BBC News from 2011 stated that NASA’s “Wise telescope allowed astronomers to detect an asteroid not far from Earth, moving in the same orbit around the Sun. The 200-300m-wide rock sits in front of our planet at a gravitational ‘sweet spot,’ and poses no danger. Its position in the sky makes it a so-called Trojan asteroid - a type previously detected only at Jupiter, Neptune and Mars.
BBC News said the “rock” was dubbed “TKY,” and that “it travels too far above and below the plane of Earth's orbit, which would require a lot of fuel for astronaut missions to reach it.”
Image source of an image from the film “Another Earth” that’s now out on DVD. The film is about a “mirror” Earth that’s discovered orbiting the Earth now in 2012. Photo courtesy Wikipedia