NASA announced that they have identified an asteroid which has been orbiting around our planet for close to a century. Although it was only discovered this year, on April 27th, NASA scientists were able to backtrack the presence of this new Mini Moon around Earth.
Although its official name is Asteroid 2016 HO3, the name Mini Moon currently fits it all too well. It was discovered by the Pan-STARRS 1, an asteroid survey telescope located in Hawaii.
Mini Moon measures between 120 feet (36.5 meters) and 300 feet (91.5 meters). Mini Moon is 66,000 times smaller than the Moon.
The asteroid was initially attracted to the Sun’s gravity, orbiting around it at approximately the same distance as the Earth was. Asteroid 2016 HO3 was then also attracted to our planet’s gravitational pull. Mini Moon has been revolving around the Sun and the Earth ever since.
Apart from its minute size, NASA was not able to identify Asteroid 2016 HO3 as a quasi-satellite sooner because of its unique movement pattern.
Ever since Mini Moon started orbiting the Sun, it has been doing decade-long back-and-forth twists. Half of its orbit puts it between the Earth and the Sun while the other half of the time, it is farther from the Sun.
The closest Mini Moon has ever gotten to Earth was 38 times the Earth-to-Moon distance, and the farthest was 100 times the Earth-to-Moon distance.
2016 HO3’s orbit around the Earth is also slightly tilted, making it bob up or down each year as part of Earth’s orbit.
NASA believes that Earth’s quasi-satellite will orbit the planet for centuries to come as it cannot currently tear itself away entirely from Earth’s gravitational pull.
The chances of Asteroid 2016 HO3 colliding with another body are minimal as well as the satellite is far too small.
Over a decade ago, NASA had previously identified another asteroid, 2013 YN107, which found itself in Earth’s gravitational pull. That was no Mini Moon, however, as it did not stay in orbit of the Earth for too long.
NASA will be keeping an eye on the asteroid from now on in order to further observe its unique orbital patterns.
Paul Chodas, the manager of NASA;s Center for Near-Earth Objects, referred to the orbital movements of Mini Moon as a dance or a game of leapfrog. He also stated that the asteroid will be Earth’s companion for centuries to come.
Image is an artistic representation, Courtesy of DeviantArt.