You probably know Earth has just one moon and other than picturesque moments at night during those lunar eclipses, red moons, and full moons. There is nothing much in terms of value we derive from it. Though Hollywood would have us believe that when its full moon outside, some guy turn to a werewolf.
However, Earth does occasionally get mini-moons. They are actually very tiny asteroids (the biggest being in the ranges of two meters in diameter), which occasionally gets their gravitational pull entwined with that of Earth and temporarily settle as orbit around our planet. Effectively becoming out moon; or rather moons.
Space experts believe that some of these mini-moons are made up of materials we find very valuable down here on Earth. Some could be pure platinum, and one such mini-moon stretching just one meter in diameter could be worth at least $630 million down here on Earth.
Now think about it! It costs about $62 million to launch SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into space. If it was aiming at snaring one of these mini-moons, the cost of building that spacecraft could go up in tens or hundreds of millions. But with $630 million up for grabs if they successfully bring it down to Earth, there is a good chance they will not just break even, they will also rake in some profit.
According to Dr. Robert Jedicke, the lead author of a paper published in the Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Science discussing on the “exciting scientific and commercial opportunities’ that could come from mining these tiny asteroids, said”
The “mini-moons are small, moving across the sky faster than most asteroid surveys can detect… Only one mini-moon has ever been discovered orbiting Earth, the relatively large object designated 2006 RH120, of a few meters in diameter.”
Dr Jedicke then further went ahead to say, “I hope that humans will someday venture into the solar system to explore the planets, asteroids, and comets; and I see mini-moons as the first stepping stones on that voyage.”
Until recently, it was virtually impossible to spot these mini-moons. Since they are quite small (biggest ones come in a few meters diameter) when you look as the gigantic size of the space in general.
However, it is hoped that the new Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) currently being built in Chile will enable the space explorers to detect these short-lived Earth mini-moons.
“Once we start finding mini-moons at a greater rate they will be perfect targets for satellite missions,” adds Jedicke.
“We can launch short and therefore cheaper missions, using them as test beds for larger space missions and providing an opportunity for the fledging asteroid mining industry to test their technology.
These asteroids are delivered towards Earth from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter via gravitational interactions with the Sun and proximity.”