Red, purple and green streamers of the aurora borealis dazzled viewers in North America on Friday and were seen much farther south than normal, with people in California, Arizona and Texas reporting they could see it, according to AccuWeather, Inc. Typically, the spectacular display is only visible in northern locales like Alaska, North Dakota, Canada and Iceland.
Earth Seems to Have Captured an Additional Moon, And We Didn't Notice For 3 Years – ScienceAlert
In the skies above Earth, astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey have spotted what might be a new friend: an asteroid temporarily captured by our planet’s gravity, what we call a minimoon.
It’s named 2020 CD3, a small chunk of likely carbonaceous rock between 1.9 and 3.5 metres (6.2 and 11.5 feet) in diameter. And here’s the kicker – the rock’s trajectory indicates it’s been in orbit for around three years already.
The near-Earth neighbourhood is a relatively busy place, with boatloads of asteroids zipping past. The precise numbers, however, are unclear; estimates put the number at millions, but as of February 25, the number discovered was only 22,211.
That’s because asteroids are really small, we don’t know where they are (so we don’t know where to look), and they typically don’t give off a lot of light, even when they’re reflecting sunlight.
BIG NEWS (thread 1/3). Earth has a new temporarily captured object/Possible mini-moon called 2020 CD3. On the night of Feb. 15, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Teddy Pruyne and I found a 20th magnitude object. Here are the discovery images. pic.twitter.com/zLkXyGAkZl
— Kacper Wierzchos (@WierzchosKacper) February 26, 2020
You’d think that, with so many rocks flying around, they’d get slurped up by Earth’s gravity all the time. Well, they do; but most of them don’t hang around long enough to become minimoons.
These briefly captured space rocks either head straight into the atmosphere, where they are burned up on entry, becoming spectacular fireballs; or they skim around for a partial orbit before their velocity carries them onwards and upwards.
It’s only the smallest number of passing space rocks that are likely to become minimoons. According to a 2012 supercomputer simulation including 10 million virtual asteroids, only 18,000 got captured in Earth orbit.
So not only are they hard to spot, they are super-rare. There have been several candidates for minimoons, including two fireballs with slow velocities that implied an orbital origin, but only one confirmed – an asteroid called 2006 RH120 that orbited Earth for about a year from 2006 to 2007. (Another potential minimoon, 469219 Kamoʻoalewa, turned out to be in orbit around the Sun near Earth, and therefore a quasi-satellite).
So 2020 CD3 is a bit of a big deal. Not just because its rarity makes it something of a celebrity, but because minimoons offer an exciting opportunity for asteroid exploration.
Sending spacecraft to asteroids is an expensive and time-consuming endeavour, and often involves vast distances. If an asteroid is just hanging around Earth for a spell, that would make for a much easier target.
Here’s an animated GIF of our new mini-moon 2020 CD3, discovered by @WierzchosKacper. Rotating frame keeps the Earth/Sun line stationary. Orbital elements courtesy of IUA MPEC. https://t.co/dok3jn3G9hhttps://t.co/x1DXWLq2vm pic.twitter.com/O3eRaOIYjB
— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) February 26, 2020
It’s likely actually too late for 2020 CD3 specifically, sadly. According to an orbital simulation, our little minimoon friend will be on its way out of Earth orbit by April 2020. It is possible, however, that the simulation is incorrect, so observation is ongoing.
Either way, by studying our minimoon’s strange looping orbit, we can learn more about how these objects are captured by Earth, and how we can better look for them in the future.
Solar Storm That Caused Dazzling Auroral Display Could Linger
A coronal mass ejection, an explosion of magnetic fields and plasma from the sun’s atmosphere, hit Earth early Friday with more force than initially forecast. These events can disrupt Earth’s magnetic field causing auroral displays, as well as disrupting satellites, communication and electric grids.
Read more: A Swedish Resort Lets You See the Northern Lights From Your Room
The US Space Weather Prediction Center had originally expected a G2 level storm Friday on its five-step scale, the event measured in at G4, one of the strongest triggered on Earth since 2017.
The impacts from the coronal mass ejection have trailed off, but energy coming from what scientists call a “coronal hole” will continue at least through Saturday and that could mean the aurora could be seen by viewers across Europe, Asia and North America through Sunday, the UK Met Office said on its website.
There are currently eight sunspot clusters visible on the side of the sun facing Earth, however another coronal mass ejection blasting toward us isn’t forecast, the UK Met Office said.
An airplane-sized asteroid will pass between the Earth and moon’s orbits Saturday
An asteroid dubbed “city killer” for its size will pass harmlessly between the moon and the Earth Saturday evening.
The asteroid 2023 DZ2 will pass at a distance of over 100,000 miles, less than half the distance between the Earth and the moon. It’s about 160 feet long — about the size of an airliner. An asteroid that size could cause significant damage if it hit a populated area, hence its nickname.
“While close approaches are a regular occurrence, one by an asteroid of this size (140-310 ft) happens only about once per decade, providing a unique opportunity for science,” NASA Asteroid Watch tweeted.
Astronomers from the International Asteroid Warning Network, established about 10 years ago to coordinate international responses to potential near-Earth object impact threats, will be monitoring and learning from this asteroid.
NASA Asteroid Watch called the opportunity “good practice” in case “a potential asteroid threat were ever discovered.”
Near-Earth objects are asteroids or comets that pass close to the Earth’s orbit, and they generally come from objects that are affected by other planets’ gravity, moving them into orbits that push them close to Earth, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
The European Space Agency maintains a risk list of 1,460 objects, which catalogs every object with a non-zero chance of hitting Earth over the next 100 years. Asteroid 2023 DZ2, which is in orbit around the sun, is not on the risk list.
Large asteroid to zoom between Earth and Moon
On Saturday, the 2023DZ2 will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
A large asteroid will safely zoom between Earth and the Moon on Saturday, a once-in-a-decade event that will be used as a training exercise for planetary defence efforts, according to the European Space Agency.
The asteroid, named 2023 DZ2, is estimated to be 40 to 70 metres (130 to 230 feet) wide, roughly the size of the Parthenon, and big enough to wipe out a large city if it hit our planet.
At 19:49 GMT on Saturday, it will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, said Richard Moissl, the head of the ESA’s planetary defence office.
Though that is “very close”, there is nothing to worry about, he told AFP news agency.
Small asteroids fly past every day, but one of this size coming so close to Earth only happens about once every 10 years, he added.
The asteroid will pass 175,000km (109,000 miles) from Earth at a speed of 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,400 miles per hour). The Moon is roughly 385,000km (239,228 miles) away.
An observatory in La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, first spotted the asteroid on February 27.
Last week, the United Nations-endorsed International Asteroid Warning Network decided it would take advantage of the close look, carrying out a “rapid characterisation” of 2023 DZ2, Moissl said. That means astronomers around the world will analyse the asteroid with a range of instruments such as spectrometers and radars.
The goal is to find out just how much we can learn about such an asteroid in only a week, Moissl said. It will also serve as training for how the network “would react to a threat” possibly heading our way in the future, he added.
The asteroid will again swing past Earth in 2026, but poses no threat of impact for at least the next 100 years – which is how far out its trajectory has been calculated.
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