Astronomers have made an interesting discovery in our solar system – an asteroid that accompanies the Earth during its annual journey around the Sun. This asteroid, named 2023 FW13, is called a “quasi-lunar” or “quasi-satellite” because of its unique orbit.
The asteroid is only 50 feet (15 m) in diameter and is about 9 million miles (14 million km) away from Earth. It was first spotted on March 28, 2023, by the Pan-STARRS Survey Telescope located atop the dormant Haleakala volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Its presence was later confirmed by the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope and two observatories in Arizona.
Journalist and astronomer Adrien Coffinet used an orbit simulator developed by amateur astronomer Tony Dunn to map the asteroid’s trajectory. The simulation showed that 2023 FW13 orbits the Sun on the same time frame as Earth, but circles our planet. Based on this information, Coffinet classified it as a “quasi-luna.” However, some experts, such as Alan Harris of the Space Science Institute, believe that the term “quasi-satellite” may be more accurate because Earth has minimal influence on the asteroid’s motion.
Interestingly, 2023 FW13 appears to have been accompanying Earth since at least 100 BCE and will likely continue to do so until about 3700 CE. Coffin calls it Earth’s longest-standing quasi-satellite. Fortunately, despite its proximity to our planet, there is no immediate danger of collision. Harris assures that the asteroid’s orbit does not indicate a trajectory that could lead to a collision.
The discovery of the quasi-loon has sparked a debate among scientists about its promise for future space missions. Richard Binzel, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that asteroids like 2023 FW13 could serve as “stepping stones” to Mars. The relatively slow speed of spacecraft makes them easier to reach. Binzel believes that exploring these asteroids could be a valuable practice for deep space missions, comparing it to a test flight before embarking on a longer mission to Mars.
In conclusion, the recent discovery of asteroid 2023 FW13 as a quasi-lunar or quasi-satellite of Earth has caught the attention of astronomers and space enthusiasts alike. Its unique orbit and potential for future space missions make it an intriguing celestial object worthy of further study.