Fire In the Sky: Rare Minimoon Explodes Over Australia

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Fireballs Like This Are Extremely Rare—In Fact, Only Two Have Ever Been Recorded

What originally looked like a meteor explosion in the skies over Australia might have been a much more rare event. Back in August of 2016 a fireball lit up the sky in the Australian desert. Most thought it was a meteor. However, after a thorough analysis, however, scientists now say a minimoon did it. 

What is a Minimoon, Anyway?

Technically, scientists call them temporarily captured orbiters or TCOs. However, a more fun name for them is minimoon. They earned the name minimoon because that’s really what they are. Every once in a while, an object from space comes close to Earth but beats our gravity and orbits for a while instead. Sometimes they’re called natural Earth satellites, but again, minimoon is cooler. 

Minimoons come and go, but scientists only ever observed one in orbit before. Similarly, they’ve only observed one other minimoon fireball. Very rarely do minimoons get close enough to fall to Earth. A team of researchers in Australia think that’s exactly what happened in August of 2016 over the Australian Desert. They used Australia’s Desert Fireball Network—a series of cameras placed across the continent to catch pictures of minimoon and other fireballs. 

In the study, the researchers pointed out that the flight trajectory for the object in question indicates that it was in orbit when it hit the atmosphere. The study also mentions the importance of studying minimoons and other near-earth objects (NEOs). It says, “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.”

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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