Near-Earth objects number over 27,000 in the solar system. Most of them are from the inner solar systems between Mars and Jupiter. Research suggests that one near-Earth object didn’t actually come from Earth, but may have been a part of our moon.

The near-Earth asteroid Kamo`oalewa, a name that comes from Hawaiian chants alluding to “an offspring that travels on its own,” is known as a quasi-satellite, meaning it orbits the sun but gets close to Earth.

It was found in Hawaii in 2016, and can only be seen every other week in April. It is about the same size as a Ferris wheel. According to astronomers, it has a diameter of 150-190 feet and travels approximately 9 million miles from Earth. It may not seem large but can be seen using the most powerful telescopes available on Earth.

But when studying Kamo`oalewa in southern Arizona, University of Arizona astronomers noticed something unusual about it: how it reflected light and matched lunar rocks taken from NASA’s Apollo missions. Astronomers believe the asteroid might have been from the Moon, though they don’t know how.

“I looked through every near-Earth asteroid spectrum we had access to, and nothing matched,” Ben Sharkey, a graduate student at the university, said in a statement.

Sharkey and Vishnu Reddy, his advisor and associate professor of lunar and planetary sciences at Arizona, then began to debate if the asteroid did come from the moon and studied it for over three years.

Reddy stated, “We doubted ourself to death.”

After missing the chance to observe it in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team was able to see Kamo`oalewa this year, and the results seemed to fit the bill. Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment on Thursday. 

Sharkey explained, “This spring, I got some much-needed followup observations and thought, ‘Wow! It is real.'” Sharkey added. “It is easier to explain it with the moon that other ideas.” 

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Another clue that gave Sharkey and his team the assumption was that Kamo’oalewa’s orbit around the Sun is similar to Earth’s, but it just has more of a tilt. 

Renu Malhotra is a co-author of the study and a professor in Arizona planetary sciences. He said that this type of orbit was not usual for asteroids and had been for about 500 years.

Astronomers still don’t know why the asteroid burst, but they are trying to find out. Theories the team have tossed around is that Kamo’oalewa is a product of an ancient asteroid impact or that it was captured in its orbit from other near-Earth objects.

Follow Jordan Mendoza via Twitter @jordan_mendoza5



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