Do You Ever Get The Feeling You Are Being Followed?
An unbelievable new discovery shows that Earth has a small “quasi-satellite” asteroid that keeps a constant orbit around our Sun, just as we do and may continue to do so for as long.
Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope in Hawaii, operated by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and funded by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
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. One other asteroid – 2003 YN107 – followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity. This new asteroid is much more locked onto us. 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.”
Though it is too distant to be considered a true satellite of our planet, the size of this object is estimated to be between 120 to 300 feet big and is the best and most stable example to date of a near-Earth companion.
So far, scientists have been able to determine that the during its yearly trek around the sun, the asteroid spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth and passes ahead of our planet, and about half of the time farther away, causing it to fall behind.
Its orbit is also tilted a little, causing it to bob up and then down once each year through Earth’s orbital plane.
The Center for NEO Studies website has a complete list of recent and upcoming close approaches, as well as all other data on the orbits of known NEOs.