Astronomers discover a “quasi-moon” that has traveled alongside the Earth for more than 2,100 years

It is believed that it will remain in that orbit until around the year 3700: it could be useful as a stopover on future manned trips to Mars.

Astronomers recently identified asteroid 2023 FW13, classifying it as a “quasi-moon” or “quasi-satellite,” a space rock that orbits the Sun in nearly tandem with Earth. It has been doing so since 100 BC and is only slightly influenced by the gravitational attraction of our planet. It is estimated that it is only about 15 meters in diameter and that there is no risk of collision with Earth.

An asteroid called 2023 FW13, which has followed an orbital path linked to the Sun and close to Earth for more than 2,100 years, was recently classified as a “quasi-moon” by specialists. Scientists maintain that it could preserve that orbit until approximately the year 3700, thus becoming the “quasi-satellite” with the longest relationship in time with the Earth of which there are records, since it would remain linked to our planet for almost 4,000 years.

Almost another moon

2023 FW13 is a space rock that was first observed in March of this year by the Pan-STARRS observatory, located in Hawaii. New observations from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and from two astronomical centers in Arizona, United States, allowed it to be officially included on April 1 in the list of these objects by the Center for Minor Planets of the International Astronomical Union, a network of scientists responsible for Designate new planets, moons, and other objects in the Solar System.

According to an article published in Live Science, it is considered a “quasi-moon” or “quasi-satellite” because it orbits the Sun in a similar time period to Earth, although it is only slightly influenced by gravitational pull. of our planet. It would have an approximate diameter of 15 meters, according to the observations of astronomers.

Throughout its orbit around the Sun, 2023 FW13 also revolves around Earth, coming within approximately 14 million kilometers of our planet. If we make a comparison with the Moon, it can be said that our only natural satellite has a diameter of 3,474 kilometers and is located 364,000 kilometers from Earth at the closest point of its orbit, according to NASA data.

A stopover to Mars?
On the other hand, as the scientist Alan Harris, from the Institute of Space Sciences in Boulder, Colorado (United States), indicated to the Sky & Telescope site, these objects that orbit in resonance with the Earth would not represent a serious collision threat. “The orbit of 2023 FW13 has greater long-term stability than other non-resonant orbits,” added Harris. He also clarified that in the event of a potentially dangerous deviation from the “quasi-moon”, it could be detected without problems with several decades in advance.

Finally, asteroid specialist Richard Binzel, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), also told Sky & Telescope that objects with these orbits slightly tied to Earth could even become useful as “layovers” on a trip to Mars. Their relative velocity is low enough that a spacecraft can access these space rocks in a matter of months, according to Binzel.

According to the specialist, this short travel time plus the low gravity could lead to a mission around 2023 FW13 working as a “test” for later missions into deep space, before committing a crew, infrastructure and resources to a longer mission. long to Mars, for example.