Moons having moons

So alone... Photo: Luis Argerich/Flickr

So alone… Photo: Luis Argerich/Flickr

The moon orbits the Earth, but what orbits the moon? Nothing… for now. NASA has expressed interest in giving the moon a moon of its own, and both the how and why of the project are a bit complicated.

The Obama administration  has mentioned wanting to send astronauts to explore asteroids, but the most viable one, 1999 AO10, is too far to safely visit; the trip would take six months, possibly expose the astronauts to harmful radiation outside the Earth’s magnetic field, and would place them too far for any hope of rescue should something go wrong.

So, if you can’t bring the astronauts to the asteroids, bring the asteroids to the astronauts. The Keck Institute for Space Studies in California has come up with a plan involving a remote spacecraft buzzing out into space, finding an asteroid around seven meters wide, examining it, then stuffing it in a bag to drag home. The craft would then bring the asteroid back to the moon and place it in a high orbit, the better for NASA’s team to explore. The whole process would take about six years and cost $2.6 billion.

The general idea would be to use the asteroid as a training area for astronauts to practice asteroid landing and perform analyses on the rock’s material, preparing them for future exploration in search of asteroid matter that can be converted into fuel.

The scientists at Keck say there’s still some more research to do before work can begin on the project. There are many questions, like how would this new moon affect our moon’s tug on the Earth? Will the moon and the asteroid get along? Will the asteroid’s old friends miss it? Are the moon’s school districts as good as the ones in the asteroid’s old neighborhood? So many things to consider…

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