New asteroid is Earth’s long-term ‘quasi-moon’
Astronomers have discovered another ancient cosmic companion to Earth.
New asteroid 2023 FW13 orbits the sun in sync with Earth, making it our planet’s “quasi-moon.” The space rock is in such an elaborate orbit that “it sweeps halfway March and halfway to Venus”, Sky & Telescope’s David Chandler reported (opens in a new tab) Friday (April 7).
The asteroid was first spotted on March 28 by scientists using the Pan-STARRS survey telescopewho snaps photos of the night sky from his perch atop Haleakala, a dormant volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Related: Photos of asteroids in deep space
Meet the recently discovered asteroid 2023 FW13. @AdrienCoffinet noticed that it is a quasi-satellite of Earth. Astronomer Sam Deen has located pre-discovery images that help confirm the 1:1 resonance with Earth. It is the same type of orbit as Kamoʻoalewa (2016 HO3). https://t.co/c9EnXVooXY pic.twitter.com/BY2GEOPGzLApril 4, 2023
The presence of the space rock was quickly confirmed by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii and the Kitt Peak National Observatory and Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona. After passing all the checks, his discovery was officially announced (opens in a new tab) the 1st of April.
The news caught the attention of Adrien Coffinet, a journalist at the French news site Futura – Let’s inspire the future (opens in a new tab). Tracing the asteroid’s path using an orbit simulator developed by amateur astronomer Tony Dunn, Coffinet was the first to discover that 2023 FW13 travels around the sun in the same amount of time as Earth. , while looping around our planet. These details led him to conclude that the space rock is likely a quasi-moon or quasi-satellite of Earth.
While 2023 FW13 – which could be about 20 meters across, according to early estimates – marks with Earth, astronomers say the sun has much more influence on space rock. Earth only slightly disturbs the asteroid’s orbit, so it still hovers close to the planet, Coffinet reported Thursday (April 6) (opens in a new tab). Each year, the space rock ventures within 15 million kilometers of Earth. For reference, at the closest point in its slightly elliptical orbit around Earth, the moon is about 223,693 miles (360,000 km) from our planet.
2023 FW13 is not the first such object discovered in Earth’s cosmic neighborhood. Astronomers think the space rock’s orbit is similar to that of this asteroid Kamo’oalewaalso known as 2016 HO3, another quasi-Earth satellite spotted in 2016 that never drifts too far from the planet.
Since the discovery of FW13 in 2023, citizen astronomers combing through archival data have found sightings of the asteroid since 2012. Using all of this data, they have calculated the space rock’s past and future orbits, and believe that ‘it has been in our general vicinity since 100 BC and will remain until at least AD 3700, according to Sky & Telescope’s David Chandler (opens in a new tab). “If correct, 2023 FW13 would be the most stable Earth quasi-satellite ever found,” Chandler writes.
Like Kamo’oalewa, astronomers believe that 2023 FW13 poses no threat to Earth.
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