Every April, for a few weeks, the faint glow of a near-Earth asteroid flickers curiously on scientists’ telescopes. Religiously holding the annual event, a group of astronomers made a surprising revelation about the tiny piece: It appears to be no old space rock. It looks like a broken piece of the moon.
The Ferris wheel-shaped chip goes by the Hawaiian name of Kamo’Olewa, and was evidence of its lunar identity. Published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment.
“I looked at every near-Earth asteroid spectrum we had access to, and nothing matched,” said Ben Sharkey, a graduate student in the Department of Planetary Science at the University of Arizona. The paper’s lead author said in a statement.
Instead, Sharkey and fellow researchers realized that the rock contained a pattern of reflected light, or spectrum, very closely related to that of the Moon’s rocks.,
“These challenging observations were enabled by the enormous light-gathering power of the Large Binocular Telescope’s twin 8.4-meter (27.5 ft) telescopes,” said Al Conrad, a staff scientist at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory and a co-author of the study. said in the statement.
But this is not the only evidence of Kamo’Olewa’s lunar origin. Quasi-satellites – a subcategory of near-Earth asteroids that orbit both the Sun and Earth – travel around our planet with an unusual inclination, which is why it appears in the night sky only once a year. appears.
“It is highly unlikely that a garden-variety near-Earth asteroid would spontaneously move into a quasi-satellite orbit like Kamo’Olewa,” Renu Malhotra, a professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona, said in a statement.
She notes that the piece won’t stay in this particular orbit for very long. Estimating that it returned to its current position 500 years ago, Malhotra believes its trajectory will change in about 300 years.
However, even with such powerful machinery and detailed orbital analysis, the team went a long way to uncovering Kamo’Olewa’s mystery. Because of the dim orb’s rare emergence, they had to build up their data sets over the course of several years to paint a complete picture of the extraterrestrial object – and find enough evidence to confirm its lunar beginning.
“We put ourselves to death,” study co-author Vishnu Reddy from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona said in a statement.
The project began in 2016 and lasted a few years, but the team missed the asteroid’s presence window in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now, in 2021, they feel comfortable with the information gathered to finally announce Kamo’Oleva’s unique past. Sharkey said, “This spring, we got much-needed follow-up observations and went, ‘Wow this is real.’ It’s easier to explain with the Moon than with other ideas.”
There is only one unanswered question: How did Kamo’Oleva smash the moon?
Since this is the first near-Earth asteroid to indicate lunar properties, it is still unclear whether the space rock is an anomaly or if there are fragments of other moons hidden in the Solar System waiting to be found.