2006 RH120

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2006 RH120
Discovered byCatalina Sky Survey (Eric Christensen)
Discovery date14 September 2006
2006 RH120
Orbital characteristics[6]
Epoch 27 April 2019 (JD 2458600.5)
Uncertainty parameter 1
Observation arc281 days
Aphelion1.058 AU (158.3 Gm) (Q)
Perihelion1.0078 AU (150.76 Gm) (q)
1.0331 AU (154.55 Gm) (a)
Eccentricity0.02452 (e)
(Geocentric hyperbolic e=2500000)[5]
1.05 yr
313.7° (M)
Inclination0.59486° (i)
51.18° (Ω)
10.060° (ω)
Earth MOID0.01682 AU (2,516,000 km)
Jupiter MOID3.93 AU (588 Gm)
Physical characteristics
Dimensions~2–3 m[7]
0.1 ?[clarification needed]
30+ (until 2027)

2006 RH120 is a tiny near-Earth asteroid[9] and fast rotator with a diameter of approximately 2–3 meters[7] that ordinarily orbits the Sun but makes close approaches to the Earth–Moon system around every twenty years,[10] when it can temporarily enter Earth orbit through temporary satellite capture (TSC). Most recently, it was in Earth orbit from July 2006 to July 2007,[11] during which time it was never more than 0.0116 AU (1.74 million km) from Earth.[12] As a consequence of its temporary orbit around the Earth, it is currently the smallest asteroid in the Solar System with a well-known orbit. Until given a minor planet designation on 18 February 2008,[1] the object was known as 6R10DB9, an internal identification number assigned by the Catalina Sky Survey.[8]


2006 RH120 was discovered on 14 September 2006 by Eric Christensen with the 27-inch (690 mm) Schmidt camera of the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona.[13] "6R10DB9"[13] was the Catalina Sky Survey's own discovery designation for this object, which usually would only be used on the MPC's Near-Earth Object Confirmation Page (NEOCP) until an IAU designation was applied, if the object was classified as a minor object. It was added on 14 September to the NEOCP and subsequently removed with the explanation that it "was not a minor planet".[14] Preliminary orbital calculations indicated it was captured by Earth's gravity from solar orbit of a period of about 12 months,[11] which is similar to that of many spent rocket boosters dating to the Apollo program of the 1960s and early 1970s. 6R10DB was assigned the designation 2006 RH120 on 18 February 2008.[1]


Some controversy existed regarding the origin of the object. Upon discovery, it was not given a formal name because its spectrum was consistent with the white titanium-oxide paint used on Saturn V rockets,[15] which meant it could be an artificial object. Precedents for this exist: J002E3 is currently thought to be the third-stage Saturn S-IVB booster from Apollo 12 and was in an almost identical orbit,[16] and 6Q0B44E, discovered a month earlier, was also thought to be artificial.[17] Its status as a satellite was also debated, with A. W. Harris of the Space Science Institute commenting, "Claiming some bit of fluff in a temporary looping orbit to be a 'satellite', with all the baggage that term carries, is mere hype".[10][18] Radar observations strongly suggest that the object is a natural body.[11]


Analysis has shown that solar-radiation pressure is perturbing its motion perceptibly.[19] However, Paul Chodas in JPL's Solar System Dynamics Group suspects that the perturbations are consistent with expectations for a rocky object but not with old flight hardware.[19] One hypothesis is that the object is a piece of lunar rock ejected by an impact.[10]

2006 RH120 made four Earth orbits of about three months each with perigee (closest approach to Earth) on 11 September 2006, 3 January 2007, 25 March 2007, and 14 June 2007.[9] During the 12-month capture from July 2006 to July 2007 when it was inside of Earth's hill sphere,[11] it stayed within 0.0116 AU (1.74 million km) of Earth.[12] It was ejected after the 14 June 2007 perigee when it dipped inside the Moon's orbit to a distance of 276,840 kilometres (172,020 mi).[8] 2006 RH120 became an Apollo-class asteroid in June 2007 as it was escaping Earth's hill sphere. Though it was outside of Earth's hill sphere, the geocentric orbital eccentricity was not greater than 1 until 17 September 2007.[20]

It is now in solar orbit[18] as an Amor-class asteroid[6] with an orbit completely outside of Earth's orbit. As of 2022, this object is 1.7 AU from Earth on the other side of the Sun and will not be less than 1 AU from Earth until March 2025.[21]

Future events[edit]

Around 18 August 2028 (±3 days) it will pass Earth with a relative velocity of 136 m/s (300 mph)[9][22] and will then pass Earth with a relative velocity of 784 m/s (1,750 mph) around 9 October 2028 as it speeds up for a November 2028 perihelion passage[23] (closest approach to the Sun and when an object moves fastest in its orbit). For comparison, on 13 April 2029, asteroid 99942 Apophis will pass Earth at a relative speed of 7.4 km/s (17,000 mph).[24]

2006 RH120 has a 1-in-200 (0.5%) chance of Earth impact on 8 February 2044 and would impact with a harmless 1 kiloton of energy if it did impact.[25] (The Chelyabinsk meteor released about 440 kt of energy.) JPL Horizon's nominal orbit has the asteroid passing 0.009 AU (1.3 million km) from Earth on 9 January 2044 (30 days before the virtual impactor).[26] As a result of a 281 day observation arc and radar observations, JPL's solution accounts for non-gravitational forces[9] as the multi-decade motion of a very small object is greatly affected by solar heating.

2044 Virtual impactor[25]
Date Impact
(1 in)
JPL Horizons
nominal geocentric
distance (AU)
nominal geocentric
distance (AU)
nominal geocentric
distance (AU)
nominal geocentric
distance (AU)
2044-02-08 09:07 200 0.014 AU (2.1 million km)[28] 0.223 AU (33.4 million km)[29] 0.10 AU (15 million km) 0.23 AU (34 million km)[30] ± 130 million km[28]
Orbit of 2006 RH120 during a temporary-satellite-capture event
Animation of 2006 RH120 orbit
Around Earth from April 2006 to November 2007
Around Earth from 1978 to 2020
Around Sun from 1600 to 2500
   Sun ·    Earth ·    Moon ·   2006 RH120

14 June 2007 perigee[edit]

On 14 June 2007, 2006 RH120 made its fourth and last perigee of the most recent Earth encounter.[9] It was 0.72 lunar distances at closest, with an apparent magnitude of 18.5–19.0. Astronomers at JPL Goldstone in California made radar astrometry measurements on 12, 14 and 17 June 2007.

2006 RH120 is listed as part of the Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study (NHATS).[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Williams, Gareth V (18 February 2008). "MPEC 2008-D12 : 2006 RH120". IAU Minor Planet Center. Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  2. ^ WayBack: MPC Epoch 2013 = Amor
  3. ^ archive.ph: JPL Epoch 2012 = Apollo
  4. ^ archive.ph: Epoch Jan 2007 = Aten with a=0.99au
  5. ^ "JPL Horizons On-Line Ephemeris for 2006 RH120 orbit of Earth (geocentric) at epoch 2019-Apr-27". JPL Horizons On-Line Ephemeris System. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved 13 June 2022. Geocentric solution. Ephemeris Type: Orbital Elements / Center: @399 / Time Span: 2019-04-27 (to match infobox epoch)
  6. ^ a b "2006 RH120 Orbit". Minor Planet Center. Archived from the original on 25 February 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  7. ^ a b Brent W. Barbee. "Accessible Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)" (PDF). 12th Meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2015. (pg 17 for diameter)
  8. ^ a b c Great Shefford Observatory. "2006 RH120 ( = 6R10DB9) – A second moon for the Earth?". Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: (2006 RH120)" (last observation: 2007-06-22; arc: 281 days). Archived from the original on 27 February 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Bill Gray. ""Pseudo-MPEC" for 6R10DB9". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2007.
  11. ^ a b c d Kwiatkowski, T.; Kryszczyńska, A.; Polińska, M.; Buckley, D. A. H.; O'Donoghue, D.; Charles, P. A.; Crause, L.; Crawford, S.; Hashimoto, Y.; Kniazev, A. (2009). "Photometry of 2006 RH120: an asteroid temporary captured into a geocentric orbit". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 495 (3): 967–974. Bibcode:2009A&A...495..967K. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:200810965. ISSN 0004-6361.
  12. ^ a b "Horizons Batch for July 2006 – July 2007 Geocentric distance" (Maximum Apogee occurs 2006-Nov-03 18:54 @ 0.011654 AU). JPL Horizons. Archived from the original on 9 June 2022. Retrieved 7 July 2022. (JPL#51/Soln.date: 2021-Apr-14) (NEODyS-2 for 3 Nov 2006)
  13. ^ a b "Distant Artificial Satellites Observation (DASO) Circular No. 68, 2006 Sept. 17, 16:59 UT". Retrieved 26 June 2007.
  14. ^ "Major News About Minor Objects, April 18, 2007". Archived from the original on 27 November 2012. Retrieved 27 June 2007.
  15. ^ Spectrum measured by Carl Hergenrother and Rob Whitely of the University of Arizona.
  16. ^ Yeomans, Don (April 2010). "Is Another Moon Possible?". Astronomy.
  17. ^ The Guardian, Spacewatch, 6 September 2006
  18. ^ a b Roger W. Sinnott (17 April 2007). "Earth's "Other Moon"". Sky & Telescope. Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
  19. ^ a b Dr. Lance A. M. Benner (20 June 2007). "6R10DB9 Planning". JPL/NASA Asteroid Radar Research. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  20. ^ "JPL Horizons On-Line Ephemeris for 2006 RH120 orbit of Earth (geocentric) at epoch 2007-Sep-17". JPL Horizons On-Line Ephemeris System. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved 12 July 2022. Geocentric solution. Ephemeris Type: Orbital Elements / Center: @399
  21. ^ "2006RH120 Ephemerides for 2007 to 2028". NEODyS (Near Earth Objects – Dynamic Site). Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  22. ^ "2006 RH120". Space Reference. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  23. ^ "Horizons Batch for 2028 approaches". JPL Horizons. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  24. ^ "JPL Close-Approach Data: 99942 Apophis (2004 MN4)". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Earth Impact Risk Summary: 2006 RH120". NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office. Archived from the original on 13 June 2022. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  26. ^ "Horizons Batch for Jan 2044 – Feb 2044 Geocentric distance" (Earth approach occurs 2044-Jan-29 12:34 @ 0.006885 AU). JPL Horizons. Retrieved 10 July 2022. (JPL#51/Soln.date: 2021-Apr-14)
  27. ^ "MPC Ephemeris Service". IAU Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  28. ^ a b "Horizons Batch for 2044-02-08 09:07 Virtual Impactor". JPL Horizons. Archived from the original on 7 July 2022. Retrieved 7 July 2022. RNG_3sigma = uncertainty range in km. (JPL#51/Soln.date: 2021-Apr-14 generates RNG_3sigma = 78335191 km for 2044-Feb-08 09:07.)
  29. ^ "2006RH120 Ephemerides for 8 February 2044". NEODyS (Near Earth Objects – Dynamic Site). Archived from the original on 7 July 2022. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  30. ^ "Find_Orb for 2044-02-08". Project Pluto. Archived from the original on 7 July 2022. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  31. ^ "NHATS Object/Trajectory Details: (2006 RH120)". Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 24 February 2015.

External links[edit]