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An animation showing the new mini-moon's orbit. Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earth has captured a new mini-moon that will orbit our planet for a few months before heading back out on its cosmic journey through the solar system.

The big picture: Scientists think our planet likely has some kind of "mini-moon" in orbit at any given time.

Details: This mini-moon likely isn't an asteroid or any kind of natural detritus. NASA scientists think the mini-moon is actually the spent upper stage of a rocket that boosted the failed Surveyor 2 toward the Moon in 1966.

  • The object — named 2020 SO — entered into the part of space where Earth's gravity is dominant on Nov. 8 and is expected to stay there until it heads out to a new orbit around the Sun in March 2021.
  • Scientists figured out that the mini-moon is likely a rocket body by observing it and piecing together its past orbits.
  • "One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966," NASA's Paul Chodas said in a statement. "It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission."

Between the lines: Earth's adoption of this mini-moon illustrates how profoundly humanity has changed the space environment.

  • Even objects like this one from the earliest days of NASA are still floating around as space junk, possibly threatening operational satellites and spacecraft today.
  • NASA estimates there are millions of pieces of space junk in orbit today, and it's just getting more crowded up there as new satellites launch each month.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

Investment in the space industry overcame the pandemic's headwinds in 2020

A SpaceX launch in 2020. Photo: SpaceX

Investment in the space industry continued to grow in the last quarter of 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from Space Capital.

Why it matters: The space industry turned out to be far more robust in the face of the pandemic than many experts were initially expecting.

Mike Allen, author of AM
34 mins ago - World

Airbnb doubles number of Afghan refugees it will house to 40,000

Afghan refugees arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in August 2021. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and co-founder Joe Gebbia said during a visit to Washington on Wednesday that they're offering temporary housing to 40,000 Afghan refugees worldwide, doubling a previous commitment.

The big picture: The housing typically lasts several weeks, and Airbnb and Airbnb.org provide subsidies to hosts.

Florida lawmaker introduces abortion bill modeled after Texas law

A view of the old Florida Capitol building, which sits in front of the current new Capitol building, in Tallahassee. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

A Florida lawmaker introduced a bill Wednesday modeled after Texas' new law prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or roughly six weeks — before many people know they are pregnant.

Why it matters: Similar bills introduced to the Florida legislature have failed, but that was before the Supreme Court declined to block Texas' law, which is the most restrictive abortion law to be enforced since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, according to AP.