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

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 12,859,834 — Total deaths: 567,123 — Total recoveries — 7,062,085Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 3,297,501— Total deaths: 135,155 — Total recoveries: 1,006,326 — Total tested: 40,282,176Map.
  3. States: Florida smashes single-day record for new coronavirus cases with over 15,000 — NYC reports zero coronavirus deaths for first time since pandemic hit.
  4. Public health: Ex-FDA chief projects "apex" of South's coronavirus curve in 2-3 weeks — Coronavirus testing czar: Lockdowns in hotspots "should be on the table"
  5. Education: Betsy DeVos says schools that don't reopen shouldn't get federal funds — Pelosi accuses Trump of "messing with the health of our children."

Scoop: How the White House is trying to trap leakers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has told several White House staffers he's fed specific nuggets of information to suspected leakers to see if they pass them on to reporters — a trap that would confirm his suspicions. "Meadows told me he was doing that," said one former White House official. "I don't know if it ever worked."

Why it matters: This hunt for leakers has put some White House staffers on edge, with multiple officials telling Axios that Meadows has been unusually vocal about his tactics. So far, he's caught only one person, for a minor leak.

11 GOP congressional nominees support QAnon conspiracy

Lauren Boebert posing in her restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, on April 24. Photo: Emily Kask/AFP

At least 11 Republican congressional nominees have publicly supported or defended the QAnon conspiracy theory movement or some of its tenets — and more aligned with the movement may still find a way onto ballots this year.

Why it matters: Their progress shows how a fringe online forum built on unsubstantiated claims and flagged as a threat by the FBI is seeking a foothold in the U.S. political mainstream.