As we all know, Earth’s best friend is the moon. But in 2016, a strange object seemed to pass close enough to our planet that scientists wondered whether or not it was a “temporary moon,” which have been observed in the past. After much speculation, we finally know what this object is — and can confirm the Earth and moon’s friendship is still intact.
As Universe Today reports, back in 2016, astronomers identified what NASA called a “a quasi moon” or “near earth companion” orbiting the sun. Sometimes, the object — which was believed to be an asteroid called 2016 HO3 — became close enough to Earth that strong telescopes could pick it up. After it was first discovered, there was question over where the object came from, and whether or not it was truly an asteroid or just some space junk hurtling through the void.
But new research from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has finally put this debate to rest. Recently, astronomer Vishnu Reddy and his team announced that they’ve confirmed 2016 H03 is indeed an asteroid. In fact, it’s one of just a small group of known quasi-satellites around Earth. The team will present their findings this week at the 49th Division for Planetary Sciences Conference of the American Astronomical Society in Provo, Utah.
Using the Large Binocular Telescope and the Discovery Channel Telescope, Reddy and his team were able to make new observations about 2016 H03’s size and where it might have originated.
“While HO3 is close to the Earth, its small size – possibly not larger than 100 feet – makes it challenging target to study,” Reddy says. “Our observations show that HO3 rotates once every 28 minutes and is made of materials similar to asteroids.”
While HO3 occasionally comes close to Earth, it orbits the sun, not our planet. That said, it’s considered a quasi-satellite because of its unique co-orbital configuration. For those concerned, I can assure you that there’s no danger of the asteroid colliding with our planet — at it’s very closest, it drifts about “38 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon,” New Atlas reports. So don’t worry, we’re good.
Sure, HO3 might get cozy with earth every now and again, we all know nothing comes between Earth and its moon. They’re a match made in the cold, dark vacuum of space.
Photos via NASA
Photos via NASA
Written by Rae Paoletta