Confirmed: (469219) 2016 HO3 – this cumbersome succession of figures from their full name – is not not not cosmic garbage nor the remains of an aircraft or a UFO watching us from space. As scientists suspected, it is an asteroid, but with a very special personality, because it can be considered the best example of a terrestrial cuasatellite. This is the name of the rocks that orbit the Sun and become companions of our planet for some time. There are four other celestial bodies of this type, although less stable: (164207) 2004 GU9, (277810) 2006 FV35, 2013 LX28, and 2014 OL339.
Discovered on April 27, 2016 by the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii, 2016 HO3 has just been officially classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) by the team of astronomers led by Vishnu Reddy, an assistant professor of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Based on data collected by the Large Binocular Telescope, located in Mount Graham, Arizona (one of the most powerful telescopes in the world), and the Discovery Channel Telescope, Reddy’s team knows that it is a rock of less than 100 meters in diameter, which rotates once every 28 minutes and is between 38 and 100 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. What the experts ignore is their place of origin.
“Due to its small size, 2016 HO3 is difficult to study, as long as it is close to our planet. We have been able to verify that their materials are similar to those of conventional asteroids, “explained Reddy. Because its rotation periods and the composition of its surface make it clearly related to other small NEOs that pass close to the Earth every month.
The hula hoops dance
The light that reflects is also similar to conventional asteroids of this nature, so there is no doubt that we are facing a natural object, and not against space scrap , as announced by the study authors at the 49th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences, held in the American state of Utah. Astronomers have based their findings on exhaustive observations to 2016 HO3 conducted between April 14 and 18 of this year.
To visualize the movement of the NEO, the researchers suggest that we imagine that the Sun rotates two hula hoops: Earth and 2016 HO3. A slight desynchronization creates the sensation that the asteroid orbits our planet, just as the Moon does, but in reality there is no gravitational link between the two space objects.
When it was first detected last year, NASA experts estimated that 2016 HO3 had been in the company of Earth for about a hundred years and that it would continue to do so for several more centuries, possibly three centuries. This makes it an attractive candidate to send a probe – even with human astronauts – and collect samples from its surface.