Status Report

Earth’s Minimoons: Opportunities for Science and Technology

By SpaceRef Editor
June 2, 2019
Filed under ,

Robert Jedicke, Bryce T. Bolin, William F. Bottke, Monique Chyba, Grigori Fedorets, Mikael Granvik, Lynne Jones, Hodei Urrutxua

(Submitted on 31 May 2019)

(modified from published version) Twelve years ago the Catalina Sky Survey discovered Earth’s first known natural geocentric object other than the Moon, a few-meter diameter asteroid designated 2006 RH120. Despite significant improvements in ground-based telescope and detector technology in the past decade the asteroid surveys have not discovered another temporarily-captured orbiter (TCO; colloquially known as minimoons). Within a few years the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will either begin to regularly detect TCOs or force a re-analysis of the creation and dynamical evolution of small asteroids in the inner solar system. 

The first studies of the provenance, properties, and dynamics of Earth’s minimoons suggested that there should be a steady state population with about one 1- to 2-meter diameter captured objects at any time. That model was then improved and extended to include the population of temporarily-captured flybys (TCFs), objects that fail to make an entire revolution around Earth while energetically bound to the Earth-Moon system. Several different techniques for discovering TCOs have been considered but their small diameters, proximity, and rapid motion make them challenging targets for existing ground-based optical, meteor, and radar surveys. 

We expect that if the TCO population is confirmed, and new objects are frequently discovered, they can provide new opportunities for 1) studying the dynamics of the Earth-Moon system, 2) testing models of the production and dynamical evolution of small asteroids from the asteroid belt, 3) rapid and frequent low delta-v missions to multiple minimoons, and 4) evaluating in-situ resource utilization techniques on asteroidal material. 

Here we review the past decade of minimoon studies in preparation for capitalizing on the scientific and commercial opportunities of TCOs in the first decade of LSST operations.

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

Journal reference: Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences (2018), 5, 13

DOI: 10.3389/fspas.2018.00013

Cite as: arXiv:1905.13457 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1905.13457v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history

From: Robert Jedicke 

[v1] Fri, 31 May 2019 08:15:27 UTC (9,011 KB)

SpaceRef staff editor.