A of team of international astronomers believe new space technology could be used to track and monitor mini-moons, according to new research published in the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.
Nearly 12 years ago scientists detected a tiny asteroid known as 2006 RH120. They took interest in the small space rock because it was the first-known natural object to orbit Earth other than the moon.
Though scientists predicted they would find more of those “mini-moons” — asteroids that measure just 39 to 79 inches across and get temporarily caught in the Earth’s orbit — in the future, they have had no such luck. The team in the recent study states that is because current technology is not quite there.
Mini-moons are extremely small and move incredibly fast. That combination makes it so current asteroid surveys are not able to detect them.
“Mini-moons can provide interesting science and technology testbeds in near-Earth space,” said lead author Robert Jedicke, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, in a Newsweek. “These asteroids are delivered towards Earth from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter via gravitational interactions with the Sun and planets in our solar system. The challenge lies in finding these small objects, despite their close proximity.”
The reason mini-moons are so important is because they could one day help scientists gain a better understanding of both asteroids and the Earth-moon system.
Currently, researchers do not fully know what asteroids are made of. Mini-moons could give them insight into that make-up and potentially allow better analysis of deep space rocks. New technology will make that happen.
For instance, the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) — set to be operational in a few years — could use its large mirror and wide field camera to pick up mini-moons traveling through space.
“I hope that humans will someday venture into the solar system to explore the planets, asteroids and comets—and I see mini-moons as the first stepping stones on that voyage,” added Jedicke, according to Phys.org
The tiny bodies could be the perfect platform for companies to develop or test both asteroid mining and planetary defense technologies as well.