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'Mini moons' may surround Earth

Jan. 5, 2012 at 8:44 PM   |   Comments

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HELSINKI, Finland, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Hundreds of tiny moons may be orbiting Earth, as small asteroids get snagged by gravity and spend some time in orbit around the planet, Finnish researchers say.

Researchers have long suspected wandering asteroids might occasionally approach Earth close enough to be captured by gravity and become temporary moons.

Mikael Granvik of the University of Helsinki in Finland and colleagues ran computer simulations looking at the frequency of asteroids of various sizes approaching Earth's neighborhood and the likelihood of their capture in a close encounter.

To be captured, an object must start out in an orbit nearly identical to Earth's, and the team estimated, on average, one asteroid about 1 yard across is in Earth's orbit at any given time, and 1,000 or so smaller space rocks down to 4 inches across should be in orbit too.

"There's a lot more of these than people may have been thinking," Granvik told NewScientist.com.

Most stay in orbit less than a year, the simulations suggest, although some may stay much longer.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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