Earlier this week stargazers revealed that Earth had a tiny ‘second moon’ snared in its orbit.
Now the first picture of this small-scale satellite has been captured by astronomers using the International Gemini Observatory in Hawaii.
It’s not yet clear whether the micro-moon is a rocky asteroid or some piece of rubbish left up in space by humans.
‘Either way, this is a very compelling object and needs more data to determine what it is,’ said astronomer Grigori Fedorets,
The object has been named 2020 CD3 and is only a few metres wide.
If it turns out to have a natural origin, CD3 will become the second rocky satellite discovered in orbit around the Earth.
The new image shows the mini-moon as a ‘tiny pinpoint of light against trailing stars’.
‘The stars are trailing because this object is moving relative to the background stars and the 8-meter Gemini North telescope was tracking on this object,’ Fedorets added.
Capturing an image of a tiny object speeding through space is incredibly difficult.
John Blakeslee, head of science at the international Gemini Observatory, said: ‘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.’
The last known case of an asteroid getting stuck in orbit around the planet occurred between September 2006 and June 2007 before it escaped back off into space.
And 2020 CD3 is already showing signs of striking off on its own.
‘It is heading away from the Earth-moon system as we speak,’ Fedorets told New Scientist, also suggesting it could break free of Earth as early as this April.
Obviously, calling the object a ‘moon’ is probably a bit of an overstatement. Which is why the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has diplomatically referred to it as a ‘Temporarily Captured Object’.
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