Author(s): , , , , , ,
Institution(s): 1. Nice Observatory, 2. Southwest Research Institute, 3. University of Hawaii, 4. University of Helsinki
We will present an update on our work on understanding the population of natural objects that are temporarily captured in the Earth-Moon system, such as the 2-3 meter diameter 2006 RH120 that was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey. We use the term 'minimoon' to refer to objects that are gravitationally bound to the Earth-Moon system, make at least one revolution around the barycenter in a co-rotating frame relative to the Earth-Sun axis, and are within 3 Earth Hill-sphere radii. There are one or two 1 to 2 meter diameter minimoons in the steady state population at any time, and about a dozen larger than 50 cm diameter. `Drifters' are also bound to the Earth-Moon system but make less than one revolution about the barycenter. The combined population of minimoons and drifters provide a new opportunity for scientific exploration of small asteroids and testing concepts for in-situ resource utilization. These objects provide interesting challenges for rendezvous missions because of their limited lifetime and complicated trajectories. Furthermore, they are difficult to detect because they are small, available for a limited time period, and move quickly across the sky.