Gemini Observatory's image of 2020 CD3. Photo: NSF/AURA/G. Fedorets

A likely "mini-moon" found orbiting Earth last month is moving away from our planet now, but it could be a harbinger of new small moons to come.

Why it matters: Objects like this one — which is thought to be a washing machine-sized asteroid captured by Earth's gravity — could allow scientists to one day study space rocks without needing to head all the way out to the asteroid belt.

  • "Because they have such similar orbits to the Earth ... they don't take as much energy to get to, on average, so they could be good places for us to send spacecraft," asteroid researcher Amy Mainzer told Axios.

What's happening: The mini-moon, named 2020 CD3, has likely been orbiting Earth for the past year, but it's taken until now for scientists to spot the small object.

  • The Catalina Sky Survey discovered 2020 CD3 on Feb. 15, marking only the second time in history that an object like this has been spotted.
  • According to NASA, the mini-moon has orbited Earth at least three times, with orbital periods that swing between 70 and 90 days, bringing it as far away as four times the distance between the Earth and our Moon.
  • The object's closest approach to Earth was about 25,000 miles from the planet's surface on Feb. 13.
  • 2020 CD3 is now expected to leave Earth behind early this month, escaping the planet's gravitational pull and moving into orbit around the Sun.

What's next: Scientists think there is likely some kind of mini-moon orbiting Earth at any given time.

  • Observatories expected to come online in the next few years will likely be able to spot far more of these objects than scientists are able to study today.
  • Space-based small satellite missions might even be able to one day meet up with a mini-moon to get a close-up look at it.

Go deeper: NASA racing to get astronauts to the moon in four years

Go deeper

Supreme Court rejects GOP push to cut absentee ballot deadline in N.C.

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an attempt by conservatives to shorten North Carolina's deadline for mail-in ballots from nine to three days.

The big picture: This is the latest of a series of decisions over mail-in ballot deadlines in various states.

Hurricane Zeta makes landfall on Louisiana coast as Category 2 storm

A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/NOAA

Hurricane Zeta made landfall along the southeastern coast of Louisiana as a Category 2 storm on Wednesday, bringing with it "life-threatening storm surge and strong winds," per the National Hurricane Center.

What's happening: The hurricane was producing maximum sustained winds of nearly 110 mph and stronger gusts.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Biden ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan as cases surge in the Midwest.
  2. Health: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests, Trump's testing czar saysMask mandates help control rise in hospitalizations Some coronavirus survivors have "autoantibodies."
  3. Business: Surge is sinking consumer confidence Testing is a windfall.
  4. World: Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" coronavirus wave France imposes lockdown as Macron warns of overwhelming second COVID wave Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  5. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed as COVID-19 surges MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.