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How many moons does the Earth have? 'Second moon' discovery explored

Molly Young November 12, 2021

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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SRINAGAR, INDIA – 2021/06/24: A full moon, known as the Strawberry Super-moon rises over the city of Srinagar. The Strawberry Super-moon is the last of this years super moons, where the moon is at it’s closest point to earth, appearing 14% bigger and 30% brighter. The June super-moon in commonly known as the Strawberry Moon, named by Native American tribes for the strawberries harvested in North America, in accordance to the Farmer’s Almanac. (Photo by Saqib Majeed/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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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Kamo’oalewa translates to a combination of the English words “the”, “fragment”, “of” and “to oscillate”, as per The Jerusalem Post, and reportedly refers to a moving celestial object.

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.

First named as part of the Moon, then a companion of Earth, Kamo’oalewa is due to spend the rest of its long life travelling alone in the darkness of space.

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Molly Young is a Journalism with Public Relations student at Leeds Beckett University. Boasting a creative background through her studies and on her personal social media channels, Molly loves creating content and providing entertainment analysis through her writing.