Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Possibilites of Earth's Pseudo-Moons: Is There More Than Just One?

Astronomers have detected that earth may have more moons than just one at any particular time, called pseudo-moons. Although these moons are not permanent, they are an interesting discovery in the planetary science of moons and their orbital characteristics. "We have for the first time calculated the population characteristics of the Earth's irregular natural satellites (NES) that are temporarily captured from the near-Earth-object (NEO) population," opens the abstract of The Population of Natural Earth Satellites, a paper by three astronomers who have researched this interesting proposal. Within a site (although in Italian), images of 6R10DB9 (Nicknamed "earth's other moon;" just one of many pseudo moons) have been found and information correlating to them. This moon (also known as 2006 RH120) orbits about twice at a much farther distance than The Moon, and about three times before flying back out to space.

"Its small size, about 4 meters, have led some to think that it can be a piece of Moon rock that following
a meteorite impact was expelled from our satellite," is from the Italian article, published back in 2007, when the moon was seen. (The images at the end of this article are from the link as well). Sky and Telescope records this along with the accompanying link: 
The simulations are complex — kind of like estimating the paths of all passengers in a major international airport, explains Tomasz Kwiatkowski (PoznaƄ Observatory, Adam Mickiewicz University), who was not involved with the study but observed 6R10DB9 during its brief visit. ... The temporary satellites are most often caught and released in late January or late July — just after Earth reaches its closest or farthest distance from the Sun, respectively.
Spotting these visitors from orbit predictions would be great, but that’s a tall order for something so small and faint. Kwiatkowski notes that 6R10DB9 had a visual apparent magnitude of about 19 when it was discovered in late 2006, and it faded to 20.5 in ten days’ time. Still, it could happen. Study coauthor Mikael Granvik (University of Hawaii, Honolulu, and University of Helsinki) suspects a higher frequency of discovery will have to wait for new instruments, such as the planned Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

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