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Astronomical Research Center (A.R.C.)

Astronomical Research Center (A.R.C.) - Nojumi.org
251 | News | 2011/04/07 370 | Print

Asteroid Stalks Earth in Weird Horseshoe-Shaped Orbit

A newfound asteroid has been discovered to be trailing Earth on an oddball course: an orbit that looks a lot like a horseshoe.

The space rock, called asteroid 2010 SO16, has been following Earth as our planet orbits the sun for at least 250,000 years and is up to 1,312 feet (400 meters) wide, scientists said. It was initially spotted by NASA's WISE infrared space observatory.

"Its average distance from the sun is identical to that of the Earth, but what really impressed me at the time was how Earth-like its orbit was," said Apostolos Christou, an astronomer at the Armagh Observatory in the United Kingdom, who led the study that pinned down the asteroid's orbit.

The Astronomical Research Center (A.R.C) mentioned  that Christou and study co-author David Asher found that asteroid 2010 SO16 takes about 175 years to travel from one end of its orbit to another before doubling back. In diagrams, the asteroid's orbit resembles a giant letter "C" with the Earth ticked between the endpoints.

Currently, the asteroid is at a point in its orbit that brings it near the horseshoe's tip that trails the Earth. But despite its apparent attachment to Earth's orbit, the asteroid poses no risk of smacking our planet.

"This asteroid is terraphobic," Christou said. "It keeps well away from the Earth. So well, in fact, that it has likely been in this orbit for several hundred thousand years, never coming closer to our planet than 50 times the distance to the moon." [5 Reasons to Care About Asteroids]

The average distance between the Earth and the moon is about 238,000 miles (382,900 kilometers).

The researchers used WISE observatory's data as a starting point to determine the asteroid's orbital path, and used computer simulations to sift through every possible orbit it could have. All of the simulations predicted the odd horseshoe-shaped path.

The research is detailed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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