A mini-moon has been found orbiting a small asteroid near Jupiter, the tiny satellite was previously undiscovered in the solar system, according to NASA.

The satellite might be described as a ‘mini moon’ but it is actually wider than the width of Manhattan and is confirmed to be a proper moon; whilst it is one of the smallest moons ever spotted. 

A moon can refer to any naturally occurring solid body that orbits a planet, or asteroid. More than 200 moons have been found in the solar system, but there are likely many more, as per NASA

Let’s discover more about the brand-new mini-moon that has been found galavanting in the outer solar system.

Artists concept of Jovian Trojans asteroids.
Artists concept of Jovian Trojans, showing both the leading and trailing packs of Trojans in orbit with Jupiter. Jovian Trojans are asteroids that …

Asteroid ‘mini moon’ as wide as Manhattan

Scientists discovered the small satellite whilst they were working on NASA’s Lucy mission which set out on October 16, 2021, to explore some of the Trojan asteroids. Lucy will finally arrive at the Trojan asteroids in late 2027, the mission is on track to visit nine asteroids on this outstanding 12-year trip. 

On March 27, Lucy’s team discovered that the smallest of the mission’s asteroids, Polymele, has a satellite of its own. This was discovered when Polymele was expected to pass in front of a star. The team observed the star disappear as the asteroid briefly blocked it.

However, researchers were shocked when an unanticipated smaller second asteroid followed behind Polymele’s path. Lead researcher Marc Buie revealed in NASA’s statement that the team determined from the data collected that the second obstruction “had to be a satellite.”

This special bonus was a nice surprise for the astronomers behind NASA’s Lucy mission. It has already broken records by visiting more asteroids than any previous mission, but it can now add one more asteroid to the list.

“Lucy’s tagline started out: 12 years, seven asteroids, one spacecraft,” said Lucy program scientist Tom Statler. “We keep having to change the tagline for this mission, but that’s a good problem to have.”

How big is the newfound ‘mini moon’?

The new ‘mini moon’ has a diameter of 3 miles and is about 125 miles away from the 17-mile-wide Polymele which was approximately 480 million miles from Earth at the time of viewing.

NASA wrote in a release that “Those distances are roughly equivalent to finding a quarter on a sidewalk in Los Angeles while trying to spot it from a skyscraper in Manhattan.”

This illustration shows a group of asteroids and their orbits around the sun, compared to the planets.
This illustration shows a group of asteroids and their orbits around the sun, compared to the planets. Unlike the orbits, the planets are not to sc…