The asteroid is roughly the size of a Ferris wheel and is about 4 million times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the naked eye.
In a major astronomical development, a group of scientists have identified what appears to be a small portion of the moon that tracks the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
Although it was discovered in 2016, the asteroid called Kamo`oalewa is relatively unknown so far.
However, new observations suggest that it may be part of the moon that was thrown into space by an ancient lunar collision, according to the Guardian.
Kamo`oalewa is one of Earth’s quasars, a class of asteroids that orbit the Sun, but remain relatively close to the planet – in this case about 9 meters away.
Although astronomically close, the asteroid is about the size of the Ferris wheel and about 4 million times lighter than the faintest star visible to the naked eye. Thus, Earth’s most powerful telescopes are needed to make observations.
The results were recently published in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.
Using the Big-Eyed Telescope on Mount Graham in southern Arizona, astronomers found the spectrum of light reflected from moon rocks from closely-matched Kamo`oalewa from NASA’s Apollo missions, indicating that it originated from the moon. They initially compared the light to the light reflected from other near-Earth asteroids, but they painted a void.
“I’ve looked into every near-Earth asteroid spectrum that we’ve obtained, and nothing has matched it,” said Ben Sharkey, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona and lead author of the research paper.
After the opportunity to observe Kamo`oalewa was missed in April 2020 due to the telescope shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic, the team has found the final piece of the puzzle in 2021.
“This spring, we got much-needed follow-up notes and went, ‘Wow, it’s real,’” Sharkey said. “It’s easier to explain with the moon than with the other ideas.”
Observations also showed that Kamo`oalewa is in an unusual orbit, an orbit that is unlikely for objects that have drifted toward Earth from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The team is unsure how the lunar piece is deflected in space, in part, because there are no other known asteroids with lunar origins. However, they narrowed the time frame for the violent event to between 100,000 and 500 years ago.
Professor Stephen Lowery, an astronomer at the University of Kent, said: “Although the team was not 100% conclusive, the team made a strong argument that Kamuwaliwa may indeed be a collisional part of such a violent event. [as a lunar collision]. “
The team speculates that Kamo`oalewa may have been cut off from the Moon by another asteroid colliding with the Moon, but they haven’t been able to confirm their theory yet, according to CBS News.
They plan to do more testing when Kamo`oalewa reappears in April 2022.
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