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The conference call with Bill Bottke (MP3 plus other documents) about "minimoons" presents an alternative to Asteroid Redirect first got me interested in orbital mechanics. The idea is that there are enough small asteroids that approach the earth-moon barycenter (EMB) that it seems likely there are frequent temporary captures of small asteroids into chaotic 3-body orbits in EMB system, that last for a few months to a few years.

Here is an example of one theoretical orbit from here or here:

enter image description here

One can read more in Granvik, Vaubaillon and Jedicke 2012 (The population of natural Earth satellites Icarus, 218 (1) March 2012, pp262-277) available without paywall in ArXiv.

Only one "minimoon" 2006 RH120 was known by 2012, but it seems there should be new ones regularly, according to Granvik et al. 2012.

Have there been others that were detected and reported?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ One has just been discovered, but it looks like it's been here for at least 50 years, so far longer than the type of orbit you're referrring to. jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=6537 $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jun 17 '16 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes that is great to know about! They call 2016 HO3 a "quasi-moon" because it's in orbit around the sun in a 1:1 resonance with earth. Watch here. They go around together, sort-of like a Trojan asteroid would. I'll have to read more - this is really interesting, at about 2.2 million miles a moon of earth would have a period of about 1 year, although that's if there were no sun. This one stays around 9 million miles away, so it's really in orbit around the sun, but in resonance with the earth. Curiouser and curiouser! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 17 '16 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes here's a crazy video of the trajectory, it just does a big figure-8 in a patch of the Celestial Sphere, bisecting Virgo and Leo The Trajectory of the Strange Object 2016 HO3. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 17 '16 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ Remember, that's just the view from Earth. Just like the planets and their weird retrograde loops. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jun 17 '16 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes yep. But this would be the first ever thing that moves around a lot during the year, and yet always stays in one area relative to the stars - for at least an entire human lifetime. There's nothing that I can think of that has ever done that before. If it was bright enough to be visible - and if it had come a few hundred years earlier - it would be really quite unique, and forced Newton and Galileo to think scratch their heads a bit. I'm sure Newton would have caught on to resonances earlier. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 17 '16 at 13:35
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Possibly the earliest documented mini-moon was the one associated with the 1913 Great Meteor Procession.

After 2006 RH120, that you mentioned, another was identified on October 3, 2015 and designated WT1190F. It impacted Earth on November 13, 2015. It was probably space debris, and not natural.

There's only one other potential candidate that I know of so far: S509356. It was identified on April 8, 2016. It may yet be an artificial satellite, but there are none known that match its orbital period, and it has a color associated with S-type asteroids.

Update 5/16/2018:

S509356 turns out to be 2015-019C, 41929, upper stage from a Long March carrying a BeiDou satellite.

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  • $\begingroup$ The 1913 event makes for interesting reading, Chant 1913, O'keefe 1959, and O'keefe 1991 and Lapaz 1956 can all be read online. But it's an inference not an observation, so not really a documented minimoon. As you mention WT1990F is probably artificial (also see my question). S509356 is probably artificial according to this and there is an ephemeris for those interested. So it looks like the answer is really "probably not". $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 17 '16 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ I've just asked Why did they think that S509356 was in orbit around the Earth? Where is the disconnect? $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 16 '18 at 6:47

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