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Space Science

The Second Moons of Earth 92

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-no-moon dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Despite a large body of work on satellite capture by the gas giants, mainly Jupiter and Saturn, there has been little published about the Earth's natural satellites other than the moon. Now Scientific American reports that although the moon has been with us for billions of years, Earth has also had countless other satellite companions and probably has one right now. These 'second moons' are boulders from the large population of near-Earth asteroids that get snagged by our gravity, orbit the Earth for a few months, then escape and move on. Known as 'Temporarily-Captured Orbiters' (TCOs), the irregular natural satellites are hard to see but astronomers spotted one such transient satellite in 2006. Dubbed 2006 RH120, the asteroid was a few meters in diameter, was captured by Earth for about a year and made four Earth orbits before being ejected after its June 2007 perigee back to interplanetary space. But TCOs are not just of academic interest. 'Once TCOs can be reliably and frequently identified early enough in a capture event they create an opportunity for a low-cost low-delta-v meteoroid return mission. The scientific potential of being able to first remotely characterize a meteoroid and then visit and bring it back to Earth would be unprecedented (PDF).'"
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The Second Moons of Earth

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