A new study has suggested an asteroid, discovered by scientists in 2016, could be a piece of the Earth’s Moon. Known as Kamo’oalewa, the asteroid is the planet’s most stable quasi-satellite and is reportedly the closest thing Earth has to a second moon.
Here we explore the ‘second moon’ discovery and answer the now-trending question – how many moons does the Earth really have? Well, according to some scientists, two.
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How many moons does the Earth have?
The Earth has one moon. It is the planet’s only natural satellite and the fifth-largest moon in our solar system. It helps all living creatures on Earth by stabilising wobble and moderating climate on the planet among other things, according to NASA Science.
The Jerusalem Post reports an asteroid known as Kamo’oalewa is the planet’s most stable quasi-satellite in terms of its orbit. A quasi-satellite is an object in a specific co-orbital configuration with a planet where the object stays close to that planet over many orbital periods.
Kamo’oalewa is reportedly the closest thing to a second moon we have but, while the asteroid may not qualify as a bonafide moon, scientists think it may be a piece of the Earth’s Moon.
Explore the ‘second moon’ discovery
Kamo’oalewa was discovered in 2016 by scientists at the University of Hawaii and takes its name from the Hawaiian language.
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Time states the quasi-moon measures less than 50m (164ft) across and circles the Earth in a corkscrew-like trajectory that brings it no closer than 40 to 100 times the 384,000km (239,000-mile) distance of our Moon.
Its unusual flight path is reportedly caused by the competing gravitational pulls of the Earth and Sun, which continually bends the moonlet’s motions and stops it achieving a more conventional orbit.
How long will Kamo’oalewa stick around?
According to Time, Kamo’oalewa’s current trajectory isn’t stable, meaning it won’t remain around for too long (in astronomy terms).
Estimates from graduate student Ben Sharkey, of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, suggest the object will remain an earthly companion for only about 300 years. After that, the asteroid will break free of its gravitational chains and twirl off into the void.