Earth has a new quasi-satellite

Astronomers have discovered a small asteroid with an orbit so similar to Earth’s path around the sun that the space rock stays as a constant companion to Earth. Companion? Yes. Second moon? No. The Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii detected the asteroid – which has been designated as 2016 HO3 on April 27, 2016. Astronomers spent a couple of months analyzing its orbit and announced on June 16, 2016 that the asteroid has been a quasi-satellite of Earth for almost 100 years. It’ll remain as Earth’s companion for centuries to come, NASA said.

There is no danger of a collision because asteroid 2016 HO3 does not get closer to our planet than about 38 times the Earth-moon distance.

According to NASA/JPL, the next closest approach during the space rock’s dance with Earth will occur on November 9, 2030 when the asteroid will be at over 9 million miles (14 million km) from our planet.

Preliminary estimates suggest the space rock has a size between 120 feet (36 meters) and 300 feet (91 meters).

Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said:

Since 2016 HO3 loops around our planet, but never ventures very far away as we both go around the sun, we refer to it as a quasi-satellite of Earth.

Chodas said that another asteroid, 2003 YN107 showed a similar orbit over a decade ago, but is no longer orbiting close to Earth. Meanwhile:

This small asteroid (2016 HO3) is caught in a game of leap frog with Earth that will last for hundreds of years.

Asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Asteroid 2016 HO3. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Bottom line: Newly discovered quasi-satellite for Earth! It’s not a second moon, but a small asteroid labled 2016 HO3.


June 16, 2016

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