Published on Jun 21, 2016

A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come.

Scientists discover 'mini moon' in Earth's orbit

By Kale Williams | The Oregonian/OregonLive

on June 21, 2016

For the last 100 years or so, the Earth has had a celestial companion, zipping through the cosmos in an orbit around the sun that keeps it in lockstep with our planet, which some are calling a new "mini moon."

The "quasi-satellite," known as 2016 HO3 in the scientific community, is likely somewhere between 120 and 300 feet across, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. The asteroid is technically orbiting the sun, but it appears to circle the earth as well, making it the most stable example of a space companion yet discovered.

"One other asteroid -- 2003 YN107 -- followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity," Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a statement. "This new asteroid is much more locked onto us. Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth's companion for centuries to come."

2016 HO3 was discovered by scientific skygazers using the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii back in April, NASA said. It's yearly orbit keeps it closer to the sun about half the time, but the other half of the time is hurtles through space keeping pace with us.

"The asteroid's loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth's gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid," Chodas said in a statement.

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