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Celestial companions and Cosmic hitchhikers

2016/06/16

Earth’s New Quasi-satellite

Asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth.

Asteroid 2016 HO3.

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

Asteroid 2016 HO3 is Earth’s nearby companion in space. It doesn’t orbit us, but has an orbit so similar to ours that it’ll remain nearby for hundreds of years.

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. 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 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.

Earth has a new quasi-satellite!
June 16, 2016
[Byline Eddie Irizarry of the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe (Astronomical Society of the Caribbean)] via EarthSky


See Also

It seems the moon is not Earth’s only cosmic companion.

The newly discovered asteroid 2016 HO3 orbits the sun in such a way that the space rock never strays too far from Earth, making it a “quasi-satellite” of our planet, scientists say.

“One other asteroid — 2003 YN107 — followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity,” Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Wednesday (June 15).

“This new asteroid is much more locked onto us,” Chodas added. “Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth’s companion for centuries to come.”

Indeed, 2016 HO3 is the best example of an Earth quasi-satellite ever found, scientists said.

The asteroid was discovered on April 27 by scientists using the Pan-STARRS 1 survey telescope in Hawaii. 2016 HO3’s exact size is unknown, but researchers think it’s between 130 feet and 330 feet wide (40 to 100 meters).

As the space rock circles the sun, it loops around Earth as well, zooming ahead of the planet half of the time and trailing behind the other half, NASA officials said. 2016 HO3’s orbit is tilted slightly relative to that of Earth, so the asteroid also bobs up and down through our planet’s orbital plane.

The path of 2016 HO3 tends to twist and drift over time, but Earth’s gravitational pull keeps the asteroid contained: It never comes closer than 9 million miles (14.5 million kilometers) to our planet, and it never gets more than 24 million miles (38.6 million km) away, researchers said.

“In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth,” Chodas said.

This dance is not dangerous: 2016 HO3 poses no threat to the planet, NASA officials said.

Surprise! Newfound Asteroid Is ‘Quasi-Moon’ of Earth

[Byline Mike Wall]
Space.com
June 16. 2016

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