Ever wonder what it would be like to float in orbit for years with not a peep from planet Earth? NASA’s IMAGE satellite doesn’t need to imagine: it spent the past twelve years lost in outer space.
But in a happy accident, hobbyist astronomer Scott Tilley recently detected a signal from the satellite, which was left for dead in December 2005. On January 30, NASA confirmed that a signal Tilley had picked up buried within Earth’s magnetosphere matched that of the long-lost machine.
Does Earth have a second moon? Not quite. But astronomers discovered that asteroid 2016 HO3 does orbit the sun while it circles our planet—establishing its status as a quasi-satellite. Scientists are deeply interested in 2016 HO3, and NASA even envisions an exploration mission to the asteroid.
What are quasi-satellites?
On April 27, 2016, the asteroid now known as 2016 HO3 was first located by astronomers located at Haleakala, Hawaii. Many suspected it was merely space junk until Vishnu Reddy, assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and his team completed their observations and presented them at the recent 49th annual Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Utah. According to their findings, 2016 HO3 is indeed an ordinary asteroid and quasi-satellite.