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Enabling the discovery of Earth's temporary satellite with the Large Survey of Space and Time

Project description

New software could help detect Earth’s minimoons better

Earth occasionally shares its neighbourhood with a number of tiny moons – a transient population of asteroids that are attracted to the Earth’s gravitational field for a certain period of time. Minimoons are good targets for in situ resource utilisation. Collecting samples from an entire asteroid could also aid in better understanding the early history of the solar system. Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the LSST-minimoon project is developing a data acquisition tool to derive possible minimoon populations from the data stream of the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). This survey could help detect minimoons on a bimonthly basis. The new software is expected to detect minimoons of an order of magnitude greater than with standard LSST processing tools.


Earth's minimoons are a transient population of asteroids which occasionally become gravitationally bound to the Earth for a limited period of time. Their physical characterisation on a population level can lead to a thorough assessment of the population of smallest asteroids, i.e. those with a diameter smaller than 20 metres. This little-studied population of asteroids is important, on the one hand, for resolving the fundamental asteroid-meteorite linking problem, with implication for the formation of the solar system, and on the other hand, are a constant source of local scale threat to Earth’s biosphere. Due to their easy accessibility by spacecraft and the large amount of time that they spend in the vicinity of the Earth, minimoons are good targets for asteroid in situ resource utilisation, or for space missions that could retrieve an entire asteroid to Earth for laboratory analysis. The primary aim of this project is to build a dedicated tool to extract the possible minimoon detections from the data stream of the upcoming Large Survey of Space in Time (LSST), which will be the only facility able to detect minimoons on a bimonthly basis. However, even for LSST, minimoons will be on the edge of its detection capabilities since the general solar system processing tools are designed for a general case of moving objects. Minimoons, due to their exceptionally rapid movement and narrow windows of detectability require special attention. Outputs will include a peer-reviewed article, and a software package to enable the discovery of minimoons on an order of magnitude greater scale than with the standard LSST processing tools. In line with Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action objectives, the project will enable transfer of knowledge and interdisciplinary skills of mutual benefit between the applicant and the host organisation, enhance the contact networks of both, and strengthen the future career opportunities of the applicant through establishing international collaborations.


Net EU contribution
€ 212 933,76
University road lanyon building
BT7 1NN Belfast
United Kingdom

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Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Belfast
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00