Astronomers confirm that Earth's tiny companion in its orbit around the sun is an asteroid and not space debris

The asteroid is similar to other near Earth objects, or NEOs, and was originally discovered in 2016.

Astronomers from the University of Arizona have confirmed that an object known as (469219) 2016 HO3 is an asteroid and not a piece of space debris, such as a burnt out rocket booster. The tiny object measures no more than 100 meters across, and the astronomers had to use one of the largest Earth based telescopes to study the object. The telescope is known as the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), and is situated on Mount Graham in Arizona.

Image: UA

Image: UA

The asteroid is similar to other near Earth objects, or NEOs, and was originally discovered in 2016. The object is a companion to Earth, and moves around the Sun in such a way that it appears to orbit the Earth, but is not gravitationally bound to Earth. The object is relatively easy to reach, and is a promising target for future explorations. The findings were presented in the annual Division for Planetary Sciences Conference of the American Astronomical Society in Utah.

Vishnu Reddy, the team lead for the study, says, "In an effort to constrain its rotation period and surface composition, we observed 2016 HO3 on April 14 and 18 with the Large Binocular Telescope and the Discovery Channel Telescope. The derived rotation period and the spectrum of emitted light are not uncommon among small NEOs, suggesting that 2016 HO3 is a natural object of similar provenance to other small NEOs."

The object is of interest as some interpret its presence as evidence that the Earth has not cleared its orbit around the Sun, and has failed to capture 2016 HO3. The official definition of a planet according to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is "A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit." This implies that according to the official definition of a planet according to the International Astronomical Union, the Earth fails to qualify as a planet for the same reason that Pluto is no longer considered as a planet.


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