Just when you think we’ve learned everything we can about something as seemingly predictable as the moon, NASA makes the kind of significant discovery that forces us to reconsider everything.
If greatness were measured by a planet’s moon count, Jupiter would easily take the crown with its 69 satellites, but there are some interesting things happening around Earth too. Of course, there’s trusty Luna who keeps our waves waving and our nights lit, but as NASA recently learned, Earth has another lunar love.
According to NASA, Earth has been locked in a cosmic waltz with an asteroid for around 100 years.
Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted on April 27, 2016 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. It orbits around the sun and also orbits Earth, passing either in front of or behind our planet (farther away than our actual moon) and bobbing up and down in what the space organization describes as a “game of leap frog.”
The asteroid is larger than 120 feet and smaller than 300 feet across, and NASA believes that the “quasi-satellite” will stick around for hundreds of years.
“The asteroid’s loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth’s gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid so that it never wanders farther away than about 100 times the distance of the moon,” said Paul Chodas, the manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“The same effect also prevents the asteroid from approaching much closer than about 38 times the distance of the moon. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”
A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come. Full story at http://go.nasa.gov/1UdQoAF
At 38 to 100 times the distance of the moon and at a fraction of the size, we can’t look up and wave to 2016 HO3, but knowing that it is always with us provides a little comfort.
So little baby moon, if you’re listening, Earth loves and appreciates you.