TUCSON, ARIZONA — Researchers just made a shocking discovery about one of only five Earth quasi-satellites ever discovered by humans.
Here are the details: A new study published recently in the journal Communications Earth and Environment casts new light on a strange 50-meter-wide rock that’s one of only five known quasi-satellites that orbit the Sun while staying close to Earth.
Earth’s gravity affects the orbits of these quasi-satellites, and they circle the Sun in a year like our planet, but they don’t orbit the Earth itself.
Yet, these unique asteroids do stay in sync with Earth as they orbit the Sun.
The study shows that the only one of these quasi-satellites that can be observed via strong telescopes, called 469219 Kamo‘oalewa, has the same color signature as rocks brought back from the moon by astronauts 50 years ago.
Researchers believe this rare color similarity, combined with the object’s unique orbital plane and slow speed, points to the likelihood that the object used to be part of the moon’s surface.
If that is the case, the most likely way in which the rock departed from the moon would have been if a much bigger asteroid smashed into the moon, breaking the rock off from the surface and flinging it into space.
The Chinese National Space Administration has designated 469219 Kamo‘oalewa as the target for a complex mission to collect and return samples from an asteroid.
The organization says it plans to launch the mission in 2024, aiming to arrive at the space rock in 2025.