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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.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker