December 4, 2023

The Kamo’Oalewa quasi-satellite accompanies the Earth – is it an exploded piece of the Moon?

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A small asteroid comes very close to Earth. (Avatar) © imago/CHROMORANGE

A research team from the University of Arizona is investigating the origins of the Kamo’oalewa subsatellite. The results could change our view of the Moon.

TUCSON – The Kamo’oalewa Orb, which accompanies the Earth on its journey through the universe, It could actually be part of the moon – although almost all evidence suggests so. A team of researchers from the University of Arizona has discovered how it is still possible for a piece of the Moon to reach roughly the same orbit of the Sun as Earth.

Kamo’oalewa was discovered in 2016. It is a small asteroid that orbits the Sun in an orbit similar to Earth’s – making it appear as if it is orbiting Earth. Therefore, Kamo’oalewa is referred to as a “semi-satellite.” Back in 2021, a research group found that Kamoalewa’s composition was more similar to the Moon than to other asteroids. On this basis, the team developed the theory that the Earth’s quasi-satellite might have been blown off the Moon by a meteorite impact.

The semi-satellite Kamo’oalewa appears to be dancing around the Earth

A new study published in the journal Earth and Environment Communications The published theory supports the theory from this previous study. However, there are also researchers who consider it implausible that Kamualoa could be part of the Moon. Until now, science has assumed that only asteroids orbiting outside the orbit of Mars can be considered sources of near-Earth asteroids. But this could change. “We now find that the Moon is the most likely source of Kamuwalewa,” says planetary scientist Renu Malhotra, co-author of the new study.

Throughout its history, the Moon has been repeatedly hit by meteorites. Thus, numerous craters were formed, some of which can be seen on the surface with the naked eye. During such impacts, material is released out of the moon. However, most of it falls on the moon’s surface, explains Malhotra in a statement from her university. Other fragments fall to Earth in the form of meteorites. However, the new study shows that a small portion of the Moon’s fragments could escape the Moon and Earth’s gravity and orbit the Sun like a near-Earth asteroid.

A study simulating impacts on the moon

To prove this, the research team simulated various impacts on the Moon and analyzed the paths of the released fragments. Most of them failed to reach a suitable orbit. Typically, science assumes that lunar fragments that have enough kinetic energy to escape the Earth-Moon system have too much energy to land in an Earth-like orbit. But at least 6.6% of the simulated fragments reached a suitable orbit. So it seems possible that the lunar segment could become a quasi-satellite of the Earth.

The study’s lead author, José Daniel Castro Cisneros, and his team now plan to determine what conditions allowed Kamuala to reach its unusual orbit. The group also wants to know the actual age of the quasatellite.

What is a quasi-satellite?

A semi-satellite follows a larger planet on its journey through the universe. Its solar orbit has the same period as the planet and an almost identical orbital axis. This gives the impression that the semi-satellite is orbiting the planet, when in fact it is orbiting the sun. The main force acting on quasatellites is the sun’s gravity. In contrast, the Moon, our planet’s only natural satellite, is affected by both Earth’s gravity and the Sun’s.

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Kamo’oalewa has an unusual orbit

The extensive study of Kamo’oalewa is due entirely to its unusual orbit, recalls researcher Malhotra, who participated in both studies. “If it had been a typical near-Earth asteroid, no one would have thought to look at its spectrum, and we didn’t know that Kamualoa could be part of the moon.” (unpaid bill)

Automated assistance was used in writing this article by the editorial team. The article was carefully examined by editor Tanya Banner before publication.