New telescope to track down Earth’s 'minimoons' being tested in Chile

The telescope is being built in Chile, and is expected to begin minimoon-hunting in five years.

'Minimoons' have been considered an important subject in astronomy, and a challenge to track in the past.

A new telescope under development could help locate and study these minimoons with relative ease, according to a study published in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Every so often, the Earth captures a small asteroid in its orbit, called a 'minimoon' since it is technically small and a temporary natural satellite.

These astronomical bodies venture back into the solar system after a brief period of capture by the planet's gravity.

A new telescope, called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), is programmed to pick up on tiny, fast-moving objects resembling asteroids, and will be tasked with finding such minimoons.

The first and last time scientists observed a minimoon was 12 years ago — in the form of a visiting asteroid called 2006 RH120. It enters our planet's orbit every 20-odd years before continuing along its path around the Sun.

Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

Since the revolutions of these minimoons around the Earth are infrequent and irregular, spotting and tracking them with current technology is dependant on chance rather than capability, the study explains.

The LSST telescope is currently being built in Chile and is expected to be up and running in a matter of five years.

When complete, the telescope would be armed with a giant mirror to pick up faint light signals from near-Earth space, combined with a large field of view, to capture these small space objects.

The study describes that a key objective of the telescope project is collecting samples of minerals from the minimoons to study on Earth.

It also describes an entire futuristic mining industry dependant on these fledgeling asteroids — an ambitious goal for an exciting new astronomical technology.

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