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Discovered Asteroid, 'Quasi-Moon,' Is Earth's New Constant Companion

Jun 19, 2016 08:40 AM EDT

Earth won itself another celestial companion. A small asteroid was discovered in orbit around the sun, the 2016 HO3. The asteroid called a "quasi-moon" or a "quasi-satellite" is expected to remain in orbit for centuries to come, according to NASA.

"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," said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) in a press release. NASA's NEO office also said that there was a former companion to Earth but had since departed 10 years ago.

The small asteroid called 2016 HO3 spends half the time closer to Sun than the Earth and usually passes ahead of the planet, but spends another half farther away tailing behind. The cycle is expected to last for more than 100 years. Based from NASA's observation, the "quasi-moon" drifts ahead and behind the Earth but the Earth's gravity pulls the asteroid back. This is expected to occur again and again. The same effect causes the asteroid to refrain from approaching the planet much closer than 38 times the distance of the moon. 

"In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth," said Paul Chodas, in a statement published by Gizmodo.

The "quasi-moon", which is considerably small at approximately 120 to 300 feet across, cannot be considered as an actual moon of the Earth, but is considered as a quasi-satellite since it mimics the movement of the moon, orbiting the Sun. 

The tiny asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted on April 27, 2016 by the Pan-STARRS 1 operated by the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, which is funded by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office.


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