Scientists recently spotted an asteroid 2023 FW12 orbiting our planet. At first, they thought that the asteroid is another space rock making a close approach to our home planet. However, further observations made the astronomers realize that asteroid 2023 FW13 orbits the sun in sync with Earth. This made the researchers describe the newfound asteroid as Earth’s quasi-moon because of its orbit around our home planet.
Sky & Telescope’s David Chandler reported on April 7 that the newly spotted space rock maintains an orbit that sweeps out halfway to Mars and halfway to Venus around Earth. How did astronomers come up with this fascinating discovery? Continue reading to find out.
How Astronomers Discovered the New Quasi moon of earth
Scientists first discovered asteroid 2023 FW13 on March 28 using the Pan-STARRS survey telescope. The sophisticated telescope often takes pictures of the Earth’s night sky from its perch mounted atop Haleakala, which is a dormant volcano on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. The astronomers that captured the quasi-moon confirm that it maintains a 1:1 resonance with Earth through the images taken by the telescope.
They also reveal that this asteroid orbits Earth in the same type of orbit as Kamoʻoalewa (2016 HO3), a small asteroid and another quasi-moon of Earth. The fascinating discovery inspired Adrien Coffinet, a journalist at the French news website Futura – Inspirons l’avenir, and amateur astronomer Tony Dunn to conduct a further investigation about the newfound quasi-satellite of Earth.
The amateur astronomer mapped out the asteroid’s path using an orbit simulator while Coffinet became the first person to discover that the asteroid loops around our home planet and also orbits the sun at the same time it takes the Earth to travel around the sun. With these interesting details, the journalist concluded that asteroid 2023 FW13 will likely be a quasi-moon of Earth.
What You Should Know About the Newly Discovered Quasi Moon of Earth
Astronomers estimate 2023 FW13 to be about 65 feet (20 meters) wide. Even though the space rock travels around the sun with our planet, scientists reveal that the sun has more influence on the asteroid than our planet. Coffinet reported that Earth’s disturbance on the rock is very small. Space rock often comes within 9 million miles (15 million kilometers) of our planet every year.
Astronomers reveal that the closest point in its slightly elliptical orbit around our planet is when the quasi-moon comes within 223,693 miles (360,000 km) of Earth. Before now, astronomers have discovered another quasi-moon named asteroid Kamo’oalewa or 2016 HO3. Kamo’oalewa was discovered in 2016 as an asteroid that never travels too far away from Earth.
Astronomers used the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii and the Kitt Peak National Observatory and Mt. Lemoon SkyCenter in Arizona to verify the presence of the asteroid around Earth. Before confirming the presence of the asteroid, scientists ensured that it passed all checks. When they were satisfied with the outcome of the observation, astronomers officially announced the newly discovered asteroid on April 1.
After the discovery of asteroid 2023 FW13, citizen astronomers inspecting archival data realized that they have previously found sightings of the asteroid since 2012. Hence, they used all available data to estimate the past and future orbit of the newfound asteroid.
Based on their estimation, the astronomers concluded that the quasi-moon has been orbiting around Earth since 100 B.C. and will likely remain around our planet until at least A.D. 3700. David Chandler of Sky & Telescope wrote that if the estimation of these astronomers were correct, then 2023 FW13 would remain the most stable quasi-satellite of Earth we ever discovered.
Does 2023 FW13 Pose a Threat to Earth
Astronomers closely studied the sightly elliptical orbits of 2023 FW13 and concluded that it does not pose a threat to our planet, just like Kamo’oalewa. However, future astronomers around 3700 A.D. will be observant enough to watch how the asteroid will leave our orbit.
Scientific discoveries like this often enable scientists to think differently about near-Earth objects. Further observations will still be required to get more details about the newly discovered quasi-moon of Earth.