It might be a lost piece of the moon, but don't call it a moon

The space is vast and lonely. It is therefore perfectly understandable that a small rock decides to accompany the Earth and the Moon in...


The space is vast and lonely. It is therefore perfectly understandable that a small rock decides to accompany the Earth and the Moon in their annual tour of the Sun.

This 165-foot-long rock was discovered in 2016 by Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid hunting telescope. The Hawaiian name of this eccentric entity, (469219) Kamo’oalewa, means “wavering celestial object”. While repeatedly circling the Earth, this timid body never approaches within 9 million kilometers, which is 38 times farther than the moon. It moves away up to 25 million kilometers before turning around for a closer encounter.

Calculations from his orbital waltz indicate that he began to follow our planet in a relatively stable fashion. about a century ago, and it will continue to spin around the Earth for several centuries to come. But where does Kamo’oalewa come from? It is difficult to study the object with telescopes due to its tiny dimensions and its tendency to hide in shadows.

But in an article published Thursday in Earth & Environment Communications, a team of scientists reported that they may have solved the mystery. By observing Kamo’oalewa for brief moments when illuminated by the sun, astronomers have discovered that it appears to be made of the same type of frozen magmatic material found on the lunar surface.

“My first reaction to the sightings in 2019 was that I had probably made a mistake,” said Benjamin sharkey, a graduate student at the University of Arizona and the lead author of the study.

Kamo’oalewa must have been composed of minerals typically found on asteroids. But further observations this spring made it clear that “the data didn’t care what we thought,” Sharkey said. Kamo’oalewa really looked like an extremely small version of the moon. After making this discovery, he said, “I was both excited and confused.”

Based on its orbit and composition, Kamo’oalewa could be a fragment of the moon, torn off by a meteor impact in the past.

Kamo’oalewa may look like a miniature moon, but it is not. Unlike the moon, which is gravitationally related to the Earth, Kamo’oalewa is gravitationally related to the sun. If you suddenly made the Earth disappear, Kamo’oalewa would continue to orbit our star. This is called a quasi-satellite. Astronomers know of four more in the vicinity of Earth, but Kamo’oalewa has the most stable orbit.

In April 2017, Kamo’oalewa was brightly lit as the Earth stood between the near-satellite and the sun. Astronomers looked at it with two telescopes in Arizona – the Large Binocular Telescope and the Lowell Discovery Telescope – and used the reflected light to identify its minerals. They saw lots of silicates, minerals found on rocky bodies throughout the solar system – and follow-up observations confirmed that Kamo’oalewa’s silicates looked a lot like those found on the moon.

It could be a coincidence, and the study’s authors therefore suggested other possible origin stories: Kamo’oalewa could be a captured asteroid with a composition similar to the moon, or the fragment of an asteroid torn apart by the gravitational attraction of the Earth-Moon system.

The team’s data, however, “gives more support to a lunar origin,” said Hannah sargeant, a University of Central Florida planetologist not involved in the study.

This near-satellite may not be the only one: the orbits of three other near-Earth objects are similar enough to Kamo’oalewa’s to suggest that they could all come from the same cataclysmic event. But at present, “there is not yet enough evidence to say for sure how these objects originated,” said Dr Sargeant.

“The only way to be sure is to send a spaceship towards this little body,” said Paul Byrne, a planetologist at Washington University in St. Louis who was not involved in the study. As it turns out, The plans of the Chinese space agency land there and collect samples for return to Earth later in the decade.

“Until then, we have the possibility that, on our trip into space, we may be accompanied by the remains of a collision that drilled a hole in the moon,” Dr Byrne said. “And that’s pretty cool.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: It might be a lost piece of the moon, but don't call it a moon
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