Asteroid Caught in Dance with Earth as a Companion - Dispatch Weekly

June 23, 2016 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Earth has a small little companion according to NASA and this companion, which is actually a little asteroid, is orbiting the Sun as well as circling our planet.

Designated 2016 HO3, the asteroid isn’t being officially considered Earth’s satellite as it is too far from our planet, but because of its stability around Sun and Earth, it can be pegged as a near-Earth companion, or “quasi-satellite”, says NASA.

Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explains that this particular asteroid has been a stable companion for nearly a century now and will remain to do so for many centuries to come because of the influence of Sun’s and Earth’s gravity.

According to the information collected through observations, it has been ascertained by NASA that the asteroid 2016 HO3 spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth and passes ahead of our planet, and about half of the time farther away, causing it to fall behind. Further, the asteroid has a tilted orbit and this causes it to bob up and then down once each year through Earth’s orbital plane. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a game of leap frog with Earth that will last for hundreds of years.

There are times when the asteroid drifts either too far forward or backward, but it just so happens that it can’t wanders far off because of Earth’s gravity.

Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted on April 27, 2016, by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, operated by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. The size of this object has not yet been firmly established, but it is likely larger than 120 feet (40 meters) and smaller than 300 feet (100 meters).

DW Staff

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