The asteroid “Kamo ‘Oaleva” passes within 14.5 million km from the Earth every April. It may have once been part of the moon.
A small asteroid orbiting Earth could be a fragment of the Moon that broke away during an impact in the distant past. Scientists report this in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment. So far, this is a preliminary study, but if the data is confirmed, it will make “Kamo ‘Oalev” the first near-Earth object, which has a confirmed lunar origin. In addition, the study will shed light on the chaotic history of Earth and its companion.
The unusual name “Kamo ‘Oaleva” comes from the Hawaiian language. Kamo ’oalewa roughly means“ vibrating heavenly fragment ”. The asteroid was discovered in 2016 using the PanSTARRS telescope in Hawaii.
Each April, the asteroid’s orbit brings it close enough to Earth to be visible to our powerful telescopes for a short time. It should be noted that in this case “close enough” is about 14.5 million km from the Earth, or 40 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Also, the observations of scientists showed that the parameters of the asteroid are close to the dimensions of the Ferris wheel, its diameter is about 58 m.
Because of its near-earth orbit, Kamo’Oaleva fits into the category of quasi-satellites – they revolve around the Sun, but remain quite close to the Earth. Astronomers have discovered such objects before, but they find it difficult to study them in detail. The reason is the small size and dullness of the quasi-satellites.
In the course of the study, the authors of the new work studied the faint patterns of reflected light on the surface of the “Kamo’Oalev”. Scientists have been closely monitoring the object for several years during his regular April visits. To do this, they used the Large Binocular Telescope on top of a mountain in southern Arizona, USA.
They found that the asteroid’s light spectrum matched almost perfectly to lunar samples from NASA’s Apollo missions. This suggests that the boulder could be a debris from the moon. Moreover, the asteroid’s orbit, which is very similar to Earth’s, is not typical of objects that are moving towards Earth from the outer solar system.