There's a Second Moon—a Mini-Moon—in Earth's Orbit

dottedhippo, iStock via Getty Images
dottedhippo, iStock via Getty Images

Moons are common in our solar system. In simple terms, a moon is a natural satellite caught in a planet's orbit. Based on that definition, a second moon—a mini-moon—has been circling Earth for a few years undetected by scientists, The Atlantic reports.

The Minor Planet Center—an international organization that studies asteroids, comets, and small natural satellites orbiting planets—announced recently that Earth has a new natural satellite of its own. The object, dubbed 2020 CD3, is roughly the size of a small car, and it's the only one of our planet's satellites, other than the actual Moon, that wasn't put into orbit by humans.

Astronomers concluded that 2020 CD3 has been there for at least a year and up to three, evading observation until February 15, 2020. It's not totally clear what the object it is, but most likely it was an asteroid that was pulled off course by Earth's gravity while flying close to the planet. There's a smaller chance it's a piece of the moon that flew into space following an impact.

The Moon's status as Earth's no.1 satellite isn't under threat. Mini-moons such as this one may appear fairly often, but because they're too small to reflect the Sun or be seen with the naked eye, most aren't documented before exiting orbit. The gravitational tug-of-war between the Moon, the Earth, and the Sun makes for unstable trajectories for such small objects, which eventually causes them to slip back into outer space. 2020 CD3, for instance, takes a wild, looping path around Earth that lasts about four months. The mini-moon may break away from our planet as early as April 2020.

2020 CD3 isn't the only noteworthy object in orbit. Here are five human-made things you can see from space.

[h/t The Atlantic]

A Super Pink Moon—the Biggest Supermoon of 2020—Is Coming In April

April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
jakkapan21/iStock via Getty Images

The sky has already given us several spectacular reasons to look up this year. In addition to a few beautiful full moons, we’ve also gotten opportunities to see the moon share a “kiss” with Venus and even make Mars briefly disappear.

In early April, avid sky-gazers are in for another treat—a super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020. This full moon is considered a supermoon because it coincides with the moon’s perigee, or the point in the moon’s monthly orbit when it’s closest to Earth. According to EarthSky, the lunar perigee occurs on April 7 at 2:08 p.m. EST, and the peak of the full moon follows just hours later, at 10:35 p.m. EST.

How a supermoon is different.

Since the super pink moon will be closer to Earth than any other full moon this year, it will be 2020’s biggest and brightest. It’s also the second of three consecutive supermoons, sandwiched between March’s worm moon and May’s flower moon. Because supermoons only appear about 7 percent bigger and 15 percent brighter than regular full moons, you might not notice a huge difference—but even the most ordinary full moon is pretty breathtaking, so the super pink moon is worth an upward glance when night falls on April 7.

The meaning of pink moon.

Despite its name, the super pink moon will still shine with a normal golden-white glow. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, April’s full moon derives its misleading moniker from an eastern North American wildflower called Phlox subulata, or moss pink, that usually blooms in early April. It’s also called the paschal moon, since its timing helps the Catholic Church set the date for Easter (the word paschal means “of or relating to Easter”).

[h/t EarthSky]

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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