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article imageNew mini-moon discovered orbiting the Earth

By Tim Sandle     Jun 24, 2016 in Science
Houston - Gaze up at night and you’ll see the familiar silvery moon. Our only natural satellite, right? Not so, it seems, for a new, much smaller mini-moon has been discovered by astrophysicists.
The newly discovered satellite is an asteroid caught in the Earth’s gravitational pull. The satellite is an asteroid named 2016 HO3. The asteroid, although likely orbit for some time, was not detected until April this year.
The new satellite has probably been orbiting the Earth for over 100 years and it is likely to continue to do so for several more centuries. The detection was made and recently reported by NASA, using data collected from the Pan-STARRS 1 survey telescope based in Haleakala, Hawaii. The reason why the scientists think the object has been in orbit for so long is based on its orbital pattern. It’s just that it wasn’t seen in older observations.
To call the satellite a true “moon” is, however, inaccurate based on current astronomical definitions. This is because the rock-formation is too far away from Earth. It does, however, track the Earth’s path around the Sun and it cannot escape the pull of the Earth’s mass. The asteroid takes 365.93 days to orbit the Sun. This is only 16.6 hours longer than Earth’s 365.24 daylong year.
Instead of “moon” the terms “near-Earth companion”, or “quasi-satellite”, are more appropriate. The main conversation Twitter, however, is about giving the satellite a more interesting name. For instance, ⭐️aliza layne ⭐️ (@alizabees) tweeted: "2016 HO3 is not a pretty enough name for our new moon . please name her something beautiful."
Speaking with Science Explorer magazine, NASA spokesperson Dr. Paul Chodas (Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California) commented: “Since 2016 HO3 loops around our planet, but never ventures very far away as we both go around the sun, we refer to it as a quasi-satellite of Earth.”
The satellite is around 40 meters (120 feet) across and around 100 meters (300 feet) wide. The satellite is held in an irregular orbit. This means that it sometimes draws closer to our Moon and sometimes further away, fluctuating between distances that are between 38 and 100 times the distance of the Moon. The orbit also means that 2016 HO3 titles, moving upwards and downwards if viewed from the Earth.
2016 HO3 poses no threat to the Earth. Its closest approach point is 14.5 million kilometers (9 million miles). Being locked in by the Earth’s gravity, the satellite is unable to come any closer.
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