Astronomers Confirm Earth Has Two Previously Undiscovered Moons
Astronomers discovered that Earth has two other ‘moons’ in addition to the one we’re all familiar with, according to a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. That is, if you’ll consider two massive dust clouds to technically be called moons.
Though astronomers had an inkling there might be other natural satellites in Earth’s orbit, none had ever been officially recorded until just recently. And now Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski is probably laughing from his grave, saying “I told you so,” as he was the first to report seeing the dust moons in 1961. At least they honored him by naming these pseudo-satellites Kordylewski clouds.
The clouds were officially discovered by Hungarian astronomers Gabor Horvath and Judit Sliz-Balogh of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. Using special equipment, the two were able to clearly distinguish the hazy clouds against the dark backdrop of empty space.
But with all of the technology in the aerospace industry it’s odd we’re just finding these dust clouds that have been orbiting our planet at Lagrange Points – the position where they remain balanced by the centripetal force of their orbit and the gravitational pull of the Earth and Sun. Our dust moons reside in the L4 and L5 Lagrange points.
And it’s within these Lagrange points that NASA planned to put satellites in a holding position to conserve fuel for interplanetary missions, including trips to Mars. With potential missions on the horizon, it’s a good thing these cosmic dust bunnies were confirmed in the event they might pose any threat to spacecraft.
“The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy,” Slíz-Balogh said. “It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor.”
The clouds are in orbit at about 250,000 miles from the Earth, roughly the same distance our previously known moon orbits, and have been referred to by NatGeo as something like cosmic tumbleweed.
It’s unclear how long these clouds have been in orbit, though it’s almost certain they’ve been there since 1961, when Kordylewski first observed them. And it’s possible they may eventually dissipate entirely, making them ephemeral moons of sort.
No one has yet commented on the way these ‘moons’ might affect astrological phenomena here on Earth. Could it be possible that the dust moons’ orbit influences our daily lives much like the traditional moon? And how long has its presence made an impact?
The search for another moon orbiting Earth does have history, as astronomers as far back as the 19th century have claimed to observe other large natural satellites in our planet’s orbit. Many of these have been written off as near-Earth objects (NEOs) whose orbits are in resonance with Earth, or are “Earth trojans,” which orbit the Sun on a similar path as Earth.
Often these objects temporarily enter our orbit and are reported for centuries as anomalous observations by professional and amateur astronomers alike. In some cases, there have even been reports of potential alien satellites orbiting the planet in retrograde, though this instance is highly contentious.
This latest news comes after China’s announced plan to launch an artificial moon into orbit to light up some of its cities at night. The announcement riled up hollow moon theories that have posited our moon may be an artificial satellite based on some anomalous features observed over the years.
Whatever the case may be, the definition of a “moon” is getting more and more confusing. Can’t we just go back to everyone’s favorite lunar conspiracy – the one where the moon is made of cheese?
For more on some of the strange anomalies surrounding one of Earth’s most well-known satellites watch this episode of Deep Space :
Scientists Now Say Interstellar Object May Have Been Alien Probe
Harvard scientists reexamined the bizarre, interstellar space object known as “Oumuamua,” which rocketed through our solar system late last year, resurrecting the possibility that it may be an alien probe. Academics and scientists were quick to write off the cigar-shaped object as a previously unknown type of bolide – a comet or asteroid – propelled in a highly unusual manner, but their observations are once again, being challenged.
Oumuamua, which means “a messenger sent to reach out in advance,” was first observed by Robert Weryk at the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. He measured the object to be several hundred meters in length, or the size of a large sports stadium.
The size and shape of the object were calculated to be able to hold up to collisions with space dust and debris while maintaining enough momentum to travel the vast distance between stars, but recent examinations found a discrepancy in its mass-to-area ratio that doesn’t quite add up.
“Known solar system objects, like asteroids and comets, have mass-to-area ratios orders of magnitude larger than our estimate for ‘Oumuamua,” said Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“If radiation pressure is the accelerating force, then ‘Oumuamua represents a new class of thin, interstellar material, either produced naturally, or of an artificial origin.”
They went on to speculate about the possibility of Oumuamua as a type of artificial satellite known as a lightsail, which is currently in development by the Breakthrough Initiative program founded by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking. Loeb is a member of the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative.
“The lightsail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars. In the former case, dynamical ejection from a planetary system could result in space debris of equipment that is not operational anymore and is floating at the characteristic speed of stars relative to each other in the Solar neighborhood. This would account for the various anomalies of ‘Oumuamua, such as the unusual geometry inferred from its lightcurve,” Bialy and Loeb said.
Oumuamua hurdled through our solar system at 58,000 mph when it was discovered on Oct. 19, 2017. The object was then propelled by the Sun’s gravity, causing it to blast off on a hyperbolic trajectory out of our solar system at a rate of 196,000 mph.
This exit speed was initially attributed to a combination of a gravity assist from the Sun and outgassing – the release of gasses from a comet as its surface heats. But scientists noticed that Oumuamua didn’t show the typical “coma,” or cloud of gas, one might expect from an outgassing comet, making its high escape velocity especially strange.
This led Loeb and Bialy to consider another potential for Oumuamua… a more exciting one.
“Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” the authors said.
Unfortunately it’s way too late for us to send a probe to Oumuamua or even to photograph it so that it could be studied properly, due to simply to its sheer speed and the distance it’s already travelled from Earth. Instead, Bialy and Loeb suggest we keep our eyes out for similar objects careening through our local celestial neighborhood.
For more on the potential techno-signatures of extraterrestrial civilizations watch this episode of Deep Space :