Minimoon Fireball Burning Across Australia Spotted by Astronomers

It's only the second time scientists spotted a fireball entering Earth's atmosphere.
Donna Fuscaldo

A minimoon, or an object temporarily captured in the Earth-Moon gravitational system, was to blame for a fireball that exploded over the Australian desert. 

A team of astronomers from The American Astronomical Society were able to identify a minimoon meteor by examing data from Australia's Desert Fireball Network or DFN, which is a network of cameras erected in Australia that captures fireball images as they enter Earth's atmosphere. 

The researchers named the temporarily captured object or TCO DN160822_03 and said that on 22 August 2016 the minimoon exploded in the desert of Australia. It marks only the second time astronomers spotted a fireball burning through the atmosphere. 


Studying TCOs can prevent objects from getting to close to Earth 

To determine whether or not the object got caught in the Earth-Moon system, the astronomers studied the object's flight path around Earth. They calculated its trajectory to ascertain the angle it was at when it entered the atmosphere of Earth. If it enters at a smaller angle, the astronomers said it implies it went around the Earth once before entering the atmosphere. 

That data was then combined with velocity information, leading the astronomers to come to the conclusion that the object was orbiting the earth, got pulled in by gravity and then burned up making it most likely a minimoon or fireball. 

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 "TCOs are a crucially important subpopulation of near-Earth objects (NEOs) to understand because they are the easiest targets for future sample-return, redirection, or asteroid mining missions," the team of astronomers said in the research which was published in the journal Astronomical

The researchers said their work and studying other minimoon paths could help astronomers better understand how scientists can prevent objects from getting near Earth as well as access these objects that could have important resources. 

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