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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Astronomers says Earth has more than one moon

Image credit: PhysOrg

( -- Earth usually has more than one moon, according to a team of astronomers from the University of Helsinki, the Paris Observatory and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The population of natural Earth satellites

  • Mikael Granvik, 
  • Jeremie Vaubaillon, 
  • Robert Jedicke
  • Abstract

    We have for the first time calculated the population characteristics of the Earth’s irregular natural satellites (NESs) that are temporarily captured from the near-Earth-object (NEO) population. The steady-state NES size–frequency and residence-time distributions were determined under the dynamical influence of all the massive bodies in the Solar System (but mainly the Sun, Earth, and Moon) for NEOs of negligible mass. To this end, we compute the NES capture probability from the NEO population as a function of the latter’s heliocentric orbital elements and combine those results with the current best estimates for the NEO size–frequency and orbital distribution. At any given time there should be at least one NES of 1-m diameter orbiting the Earth. The average temporarily-captured orbiter (TCO; an object that makes at least one revolution around the Earth in a co-rotating coordinate system) completes (2.88 ± 0.82) rev around the Earth during a capture event that lasts (286 ± 18) d. We find a small preference for capture events starting in either January or July. Our results are consistent with the single known natural TCO, 2006 RH120, a few-meter diameter object that was captured for about a year starting in June 2006. We estimate that about 0.1% of all meteors impacting the Earth were TCOs.

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