EARTH — For the time being, Earth has gained a second moon.
This one's much, much smaller than the one we're used to seeing. The "mini-moon," as it's been dubbed, is only 6 feet to 11 feet in size.
Research specialists Kacper Wierzchos and Theodore Pruyne discovered the mini moon. The two work for the Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-funded project at the University of Arizona.
Researchers estimate the mini moon, which is now circling the Earth, may have been pulled into orbit up to three years ago.
"It's like a little dance," said Bob Bonadurer, Director of the Milwaukee Public Museum's Daniel M. Soref Dome Theater and Planetarium. "You're pulling someone in for a little bit and they dance around you."
Bonadurer said the mini-moon, which is actually rock of space debris, commonly known as an asteroid, was likely pulled in by Earth's gravity.
He said it won't stick around for very long. Some estimates show it will float off into space in April.
According to Bonadurer, the mini-moon won't impact Earth's orbit and doesn't pose a risk to our planet.
But he said, as researchers seek to better understand the solar system, and develop greater, more expansive space programs, it's important to understand Earth's immediate surroundings.
"It's vitally important to know where we are, what's around us, what's orbiting us," Bonadurer said. "We have to know what's out there and what might potentially hit us."
This is only the second mini-moon in history discovered by researchers.
But Bonadurer said that could be, in part, because telescopes weren't always advanced enough to see them.
He said interested people here on Earth hoping to see the mini moon in the sky are out of luck.
"It's very faint," Bonadurer said.
But he added programming at the planetarium, such as Museum Overnights, is a great way to get a better understanding of the solar system.