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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Explained: What is Kamo’oalewa?

Kamo’oalewa: The asteroid is roughly the size of a Ferris wheel – between 150 and 190 feet in diameter – and gets as close as about 9 million miles from Earth.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: November 16, 2021 8:40:53 am
An artist's impression of Kamo’oalewa near the Earth-Moon system. (Addy Graham/University of Arizona)

In 2006, the PanSTARRS telescope in Hawaii spotted a quasi-satellite — a near-Earth object that orbits the Sun and yet remains close to the Earth. Scientists named it Kamo’oalewa, a word that is part of a Hawaiian chant, and alludes to an offspring that travels on its own. The asteroid is roughly the size of a Ferris wheel – between 150 and 190 feet in diameter – and gets as close as about 9 million miles from Earth.

Because of its small size (about 50 metres wide), this quasi-satellite has been difficult for scientists to study, and little was known about it so far. Now, a study in the journal Communications Earth and Environment offers insights into where this satellite could have come from.

One possibility is that Kamo’oalewa was a part of the Earth’s Moon, the study suggests. It could have broken away from the Moon due to a possible impact, and gone on to orbit the Sun rather than the Earth-like its parent does.

When scientists compared its spectrum with a lunar sample that was brought back to Earth during the Apollo 14 mission, they found striking similarities between the two. A mission to collect Kamo’oalewa’s samples has been scheduled for a launch in 2025.

Another possibility is that Kamo’oalewa was captured in its Earth-like orbit from the general population of Near Earth Objects. A third possibility could be that it originated from an as-yet-undiscovered quasi-stable population of Earth’s Trojan asteroids (Trojans are a group of asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet.

Source: University of Hawaii, University of Arizona

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