Every April, for a few weeks, a faint glow from a near-Earth asteroid shimmers on scientists’ telescopes.
While watching the annual event, a group of astronomers made an unexpected discovery about the little shard: it doesn’t appear to be just any old space rock. It appears to be a destroyed piece of the moon. The Ferris wheel-sized chip is known as Kamo’oalewa in Hawaiian, and evidence for its lunar origins was published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment.
Instead, Sharkey and his colleagues discovered that the rock had a reflected light pattern or spectrum strikingly similar to moon rocks returned by NASA’s Apollo missions.
In a statement, Al Conrad, a staff scientist at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory and co-author of the study, said, “These demanding observations were enabled by the vast light-gathering power of the twin 8.4-meter (27.5 feet) telescopes of the Large Binocular Telescope.”
“It’s quite unusual that a common near-Earth asteroid would spontaneously move into a quasi-satellite orbit like Kamo’oalewa’s,” said Renu Malhotra, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona. Points out that the piece will not stay in this orbit for long. Instead, Malhotra believes the trajectory will shift in roughly 300 years, estimating it reached its current position 500 years ago.
Even with such strong technology and in-depth orbital study, the team had to go a long distance to discover Kamo’oalewa’s secret. They had to build their data sets over several years due to the dim orb’s occasional appearance, so they could paint a complete image of the extraterrestrial object and find enough proof to verify its lunar origins.
Only one thing remains unanswered: how did Kamo’oalewa break away from the moon?
Because this is the first near-Earth asteroid to show lunar characteristics, it’s unclear whether the space rock is a one-off or if other moon fragments are lying in the solar system waiting to be discovered.
Get nova scotia and Canada’s top News, Latest news and other News of the world only at most trustable news website of Canada Novascotiajournal.com