HALEAKALA, Maui (HawaiiNewsNow) - By Janelle Guerrero-Miguel
University of Hawaii researchers discovered a new cosmic companion to earth. It has been orbiting our planet for almost a century and will continue for centuries to come.
Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted in April by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, operated by the UH's Institute for Astronomy.
"It was a very interesting object because it appeared to be very close to the Earth but it appeared to be almost possibly a satellite of the Earth of a quasi satellite of the Earth," said Richard Wainscoat, an astronomer for the UH Institute of Astronomy.
The asteroid is classified as a 'quasi-satellite' because it is too distant from earth to be considered a true satellite.
A true satellite is an object that orbits around a planet or star. Asteroid 2016 HO3 spends half of its time closer to the sun, then it passes our planet. It spends the other half of its time further away which causes it to fall behind. Earth's gravity is strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid.
""The travel time to get to this object for an astronaut if we are talking about a space mission is quite manageable I think with today's technology. I think getting to Mars, this could be a bridge to getting to Mars, getting to this object," Wainscoat said.
The size of the asteroid has not been established yet, but it estimated to be between 120-300 feet. It never comes closer than 9 million miles from Earth and does not pose a threat.