The newly discovered asteroid 2016 HO3 orbits the sun in such a way that the space rock never strays too far from Earth, making it a "quasi-satellite" of our planet, scientists say.
"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 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Wednesday (June 15).
"This new asteroid is much more locked onto us," Chodas added. "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."
Certainly, 2016 HO3 is the greatest example of an Earth quasi-satellite ever discovered, scientists said.
The asteroid was discovered on April 27 by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 survey telescope in Hawaii. 2016 HO3's exact size is unidentified, but researchers contemplate it's between 130 feet as well as 330 feet wide (40 to 100 meters).
As the rock spheres the sun, it loops around Earth as well, skyrocketing ahead of the planet half of the time and sprawling behind the other half. 2016 HO3's orbit is tilted slightly relative to that of Earth, so the asteroid also bobs up and down through our planet's orbital plane, said NASA officials.
The path of 2016 HO3 inclines to curl and float over time, but Earth's gravitational pull keeps the asteroid delimited: researchers said it never comes closer than 14.5 million kilometres to Earth, and it never gets more than 38.6 million kilometres away.
"In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth," says Chodas
NASA officials said, this dance is not dangerous: 2016 HO3 poses no threat to the planet.