The near-Earth asteroid Kamo`oalewa may really be a piece of the Moon

One of the few known Earth’s quasi-satellites, namely the 100-meter asteroid Kamo`oalewa (469219), has become the object of close attention by scientists. This asteroid retains its dynamics for a long time. Its orbit is extremely similar to Earth’s, and the reflection spectrum resembles lunar silicates, which indicates its possible origin from the surface of the Moon.

Quasi-satellites of the Earth. Illustration: Unshplash

In 2021, a group of scientists from the University of Arizona first hypothesized that Kamo`oalewa could be a fragment of the Moon. Another scientific team from the same university discovered a possible mechanism that could help understand this event, just two years after the discovery of the asteroid. 

Simulation of a rare opportunity

The researchers used numerical simulations in their new study to examine the dynamic evolution of particles that were ejected from different points on the Moon’s surface at different speeds. They were trying to determine the probability that one of these particles could get into an orbit similar to Kamo`oalewa. This possibility is extremely rare, since the fragments of the Moon that can separate from the Earth-Moon system are usually too energetic to leave this orbit.

Orbit of the Kamo`oalewa asteroid. Image: Wikipedia

Simulations indicate that some of these fragments may indeed reach a similar orbit, and Kamo`oalewa may be one of such fragments that arose as a result of a collision with the Moon several million years ago. 

Collision mechanics

Renu Malhotra, Professor of planetary sciences and one of the lead authors of the article, said: “Some fragments from the impact on the surface of the Moon can really fly into space and land on Earth in the form of meteorites. However, a small portion can escape the gravity of the Moon and Earth and orbit the Sun like other near-Earth asteroids. Our numerical simulation confirms that Kamo`oalewa may belong to this small category of objects that are in near-Earth orbit.”

Orbit of the Kamo`oalewa asteroid. Image: Wikipedia

The results of this study may help reveal more information about near-Earth objects that potentially pose a danger to the Earth. A more detailed study of the Kamo`oalewa asteroid and the determination of its origin from a specific lunar crater can provide valuable information about the mechanics of collisions in space.

Earlier we talked in detail about asteroids and small bodies.

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