Earth’s new “near-moon” will stick around for hundreds of years

Astronomers recently discovered an asteroid tracking our planet on its annual journey around the sun. Dubbed 2023 FW13, this asteroid is considered by experts to be a near-moon or near-satellite, as it orbits the sun in a similar time frame to Earth’s, although it is only slightly affected by our planet’s gravitational pull.

The asteroid which measures just 50 feet (15 meters) in diameter and is about nine million miles (14 million kilometers) from Earth was first spotted on March 28, 2023 by the Pan survey telescope. -STARRS, located atop Haleakal, a dormant volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Shortly thereafter, its presence in the Earth’s vicinity was confirmed by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and two observatories in Arizona (the Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter). On April 1, it was officially listed by the Minor Planet Center at the International Astronomical Union, an organization responsible for designating new planets, moons and other astronomical objects in our solar system.

Ranking 2023 FW13

This news caught the attention of journalist and astronomer Adrien Coffinet, who used an orbit simulator developed by amateur astronomer Tony Dunn to map the path of the asteroids. The model showed that 2023 FW13 travels around the sun in the same amount of time as Earth, while also circling our planet, which led Coffinet to classify it as a near-moon.

However, as Alan Harris, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, points out, since Earth plays virtually no role in the movement of asteroids, its classification as a quasi-satellite might be a bit far-fetched.

Our cosmic companion

Regardless of its classification, however, 2023 FW13 appears to have been our planet’s cosmic companion since at least 100 BC and will most likely continue to follow Earth in its orbit around the sun until about AD 3700. It appears to be the longest quasi-Earth satellite known to date, Coffinet said.

Fortunately, despite being relatively close to our planet, this asteroid is unlikely to be on a collision course with Earth. The good news is that such an orbit doesn’t result in an impact trajectory out of nowhere, Harris said.

According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) astronomer Richard Binzel, astronomical objects like this could act as stepping stones to Mars, meaning they could soon be reached by spacecraft due to their relatively slow speed caused by their proximity – corresponding to the Earth’s orbit. A space mission seeking to reach such asteroids makes sense as a way to practice deep space missions, before committing a crew and hardware to a longer mission to Mars. It’s a shakedown cruise, concluded Binzel.

What is a quasi-moon?

An asteroid and a quasimoon are not mutually exclusive categories; rather, they are terms that describe different aspects of the nature and behavior of an object in space.

An asteroid is a small rocky object that orbits the sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt, a region of space located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, although there are many asteroids that have orbits that bring them closer to Earth (these are known as Near-Earth Asteroids).

A near-moon, on the other hand, is a term that describes an asteroid trapped in a synchronized orbit with a planet. It’s not a true moon because it doesn’t orbit the planet in a simple, closed path. Instead, it moves in a complex, ring-like orbit that takes it around the planet, but also away from it.

An example of a near-moon is 2006 RH120, a tiny asteroid that, for a while, orbited the Earth alongside the Moon. In reality, this object was in 1:1 resonance with the Earth; its orbit around the Sun was the same length as the Earth’s, but the gravitational influence of the Earth made its path irregular and complex.

While it is incorrect to call such objects “second moons” for Earth, they are an interesting category of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and a testament to the complexity of gravitational interactions in our solar system.

From Andrey Ionescu, Earth. com Personal writer

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