COUNCIL CHRONICLE – Back in April 2016, astronomers detected an odd formation in space, one that seemingly orbited the Sun but also passed very close to Earth. Telescopes also viewed it periodically, but couldn’t determine whether this was just a clump of space junk, or whether it was an actual rock formation.
Now, this object, named 469219 2016 HO3 but better known as the Temporary Moon, may have finally been categorized and explained.
The Temporary Moon, an Asteroid Fond of the Earth
University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory scientists led by Vishnu Reddy are behind a new study that analyzed 2016 HO3. Their research, based in part on data supplied by the NASA Near-Earth Object Observations Program, looked to determine the true nature of this orbiting object.
The Temporary Moon is located some 38 to 100 lunar distances from our planet. But its size still makes it a “challenging” target to follow.
2016 HOC was determined to be just 330 feet across and seems to rotate “once every 28 minutes”. It also appears to be composed of materials similar to those that make up an asteroid. In turn, this helped confirm its status of being an asteroid itself, which was one of the first and main theories regarding its nature.
Other speculations proposed that this might have been space junk, for example, a remnant from the Apollo-era missions. However, determining that this is an asteroid and a NEO (Near-Earth Object) might help find out more about the latter and their origins as well.
“The derived rotation period and the spectrum of emitted light are not uncommon among small NEOs, suggesting that 2016 HO3 is a natural object of similar provenance to other small NEOs,” states the study lead.
However, 2016 HOC can be easily distinguished from other asteroids and was determined to be a quasi-satellite due to its orbit.
“Quasi-satellites”, in general, have what some call unique and others odd orbits. The Temporary Moon follows a similar path to our planet, hence its nickname. However, because it is not dependent and dominated by Earth’s gravity, the two space objects are out of sync.
So instead of following the planet exactly, 2016 HOC just “loops” around it on its orbit around the Sun.
The study results were presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences which took place this week in Utah.
Image Source: JPL/NASA