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Mini moons may zip around Earth

One found so far, but many more of these huggable-sized asteroids exist, astronomers say

By
3:20pm, August 5, 2015
Mini moon trajectory map

JUST VISITING  A mini moon sidles up to Earth (yellow trajectory) and dances along one possible complex trajectory before leaving several months later (red trajectory). Earth and moon are not shown to scale, but the mini moon trajectory is.

HONOLULU — Earth most likely has groupies. A revolving door of tiny space rocks, or “mini moons,” might flit around our planet, and Robert Jedicke is determined to find them.

“Only one is known,” Jedicke said August 3 at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union. “It’s not fictional.”

With just one temporary tagalong in hand, though, researchers have relied on computer simulations to learn about these visitors from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The one discovered in 2006 —roughly 3 meters wide (enormous by presumed mini moon standards) — orbited Earth for about a year. These elusive satellites are tantalizing targets for scoping out asteroids (SN: 8/23/14, p. 22) without having to go too far from home.

If only researchers could find more.

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