Chilean scientist discovers a new natural satellite orbiting the Earth

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Imagen: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

It was a fortuitous finding. At the beginning of August this year, the Unidad de Astronomía of Universidad de Antofagasta (Universidad de Antofagasta’s Department of Astronomy) announced Farid Char’s incidental finding of an asteroid close to the Earth. The object was named Atón 2014 OL339.

In a later study, carried out by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, Carlos and Raúl de la Fuente Marcos discovered that the asteroid is nothing less than a quasi-moon orbiting the Earth. This means that the celestial body is a “transitory” companion to the planet, given that its orbit is not stable and permanent like that of the moon.

According to New Scientist magazine, Atón 2014 OL339 has been orbiting the Earth for 775 years and will keep on doing so for another 165. On the other hand, The Daily Mail claimed that the quasi-moon has an elliptic orbit and takes about 364,92 days to circle around the sun. Thus, the asteroid and the Earth are in “resonant orbits”. This phenomenon occurs when two orbiting bodies exert a gravitational influence on one another, due to the inextricable link that exists between their orbits.

Besides 2014 OL339, the other three quasi-moons that are known so far are the asteroids (164207) 2004 GU0, (277810) 2006 FV35 and 2013 LX28. Despite their presence, the moon still remains as Earth’s only permanent natural satellite.