For nearly a century, a tiny asteroid circling around the Earth's orbit and has now been officially tagged by NASA as Earth's tiny second moon. Between 120 feet to 300 feet in diameter, the miniscule quasi-satellite also revolves around the sun on a similar orbit as our planet.
Known as "asteroid 2016 HO3," Earth's new companion is estimated to have been around for the past 100 years. First detected on April 27 by the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy using the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope, the asteroid quasi-moon may eventually leave at some point in time unlike our very own moon which has been Earth's constant playmate for eons. The rock's orbit seems to follow a unique low back-and-forth twist pattern for the past several decades. Scientists think that it may continue to hang around the Earth's orbit for hundreds of years more, Inhabitat reported.
"The asteroid's loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth's gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid so that it never wanders farther away than about 100 times the distance of the moon," said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California as quoted by Mother Nature Network.
Chodas added that this celestial arrangement also prevents the miniscule satellite from "approaching much closer than about 38 times the distance of the moon." The tiny moon, in Chodas' words, is "caught in a little dance" with our very own planet.
Interestingly, "asteroid 2016 HO3" is just one of Earth's celestial buddies other than the moon. Astronomers have made a catalog of other tiny space entities caught up in the Earth's orbit which are as follows (via Smithsonian Magazine):
1. Cruithne: The three-mile wide asteroid quasi-satellite 3753 Cruithne was discovered in 1983 and is quite similar to 2016 HO3.
2. 2010 TK7: A Trojan asteroid that tags along the Earth's orbit as it revolves around the sun.
3. 2006 RH120: Discovered in late 2006 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona after detecting a mysterious white space entity circling the earth. It was first thought of as space debris or a spent rocket booster but was later discovered as a small asteroid. However, it disappeared by 2007.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency has laid out an ambitious plan to construct a deep space human outpost between the Earth and the Moon. The space base is envisioned to facilitate easier back-and-forth travel between the Moon and the Earth, the Telegraph reported.