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Earth has new, but temporary, natural moon

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- There is a new, but temporary, natural moon orbiting Earth, according to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

The group announced the discovery of 2020 CD3 in an update this week.

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"Orbit integrations ... indicate that this object is temporarily bound to the Earth," astronomers wrote in the update. "No evidence of perturbations due to solar radiation pressure is seen, and no link to a known artificial object has been found. Further observations and dynamical studies are strongly encouraged."

As EarthSky reported, the new mini moon was first spotted by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey, based at the University of Arizona, on February 15. Scientists have since observed the object 30 times, confirming its orbit around Earth.

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Several of astronomers announced their discovery of the mini moon on social media.

Researchers estimate the natural satellite to be between six and 12 feet in diameter.

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NASA scientists have previously conducted computer simulations suggesting Earth is usually host to one or more mini moons, asteroids that temporarily circle Earth before breaking free and escaping back into interplanetary space.

"At any given time there should be at least one asteroid with a diameter of at least one meter orbiting Earth," according to NASA. "Of course, there may also be many smaller objects orbiting Earth, too."

Because these temporary natural satellites are so small and faint, they're difficult to find. But as in the case of 2020 CD3, astronomers occasionally spot the glimmer of an unusual visitor.

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In 2006, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey identified a mini moon as big as a car. Unlike 2020 CD3, which scientists estimate has been orbiting Earth for the last three years, 2006 RH120 left after a little less than a year.

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