It’s not quite another moon, but Earth is currently being orbited by an artificial satellite that reminds astronomers of… an empty trash bag.
The Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) telescope in Haleakala, Hawaii, first spotted it Friday. The object now has the designation ‘A10bMLz,‘ which is both unimpressive for an Earth satellite and yet not bad for something reminiscent of a plastic bag.
The Northolt Branch Observatories in London then took a look at the object and reported via Facebook that it’s extremely lightweight with a high area-to-mass ratio, just like a big piece of plastic wrap.
‘This suggests that it is what is known as an ’empty trash bag object’: A piece of light material (probably metallic foil), left over from a rocket launch. It is not clear yet when A10bMLz has been launched.’
Astronomers have spotted ’empty trash bags’ before, but this one has an unusual orbit that brings it within 600 km (373 miles) of Earth’s surface at its closest and takes it 1.4 times the distance to the moon at its farthest point. Similar objects have typically kept much closer to Earth.
The small mass of A10bMLz means it can be easily pushed around by just the radiation pressure coming off the sun, changing its orbit unpredictably. Astronomers think it could burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere within a few months.
Good thing it was able to have its American Beauty moment in the spotlight first.