WHAT IS IT?
New Object Encircling Earth Baffles NASA
P. Clay Sherrod
UPDATE JUNE 25: Although a great deal of uncertainty still exists on this object and interest is high, several new theories on its origin and nature have surfaced, all of which are potentially valid and sound. It is still unknown if this is a natural (captured asteroid) or man-made (one of the Chinese Chang rocket boosters is suspected and proposed by one scientist). Technically we CAN say that this object does indeed - at least at this time - "orbits" the Earth, but in reality, it is orbiting the sun just as we are. The object is temporarily caught in a gravitational lock with Earth that may last more than a century. More later as we learn more.
Your guess at this point will be as good as any of the scientists now baffled by the strange new object 2016 HO3, originally classified as just another of many Near Earth Objects (NEOs) encircling the sun which pose some danger to the Earth at some future time.
The 21st magnitude object - so faint that only the world's largest telescopes can now detect it - makes its closest approach to Earth every April and May each year and apparently has been making this trek for at least the last 15 years. At a closest distance of about 3 million miles, it is estimated that 2016 HO3 is about the size of a football field or somewhat larger, perhaps 130 meters across. Although at present it is fainter than 21st magnitude, it does get brighter during parts of its orbit, up to about magnitude 20.3 which will be observable from ASO at a future date.
The object has attracted attention for two reasons, both of which are incredibly strange for nearly every object known:
1) the orbit is locked into a very odd figure-8 pattern (see below) that does not seem realistic to be either an artificial satellite launched from Earth or a natural satellite of Earth or asteroid. Taking into consideration of all gravitation and solar forces on the object, this orbital pattern is about as strange as has ever been seen. The figure below was derived by minor planet orbital scientist and Project Pluto director Bill Gray.
2) The mass of the object is very low, and indicates that it is NOT natural "space rock" material, very small for its total volume and size. This, at the outset, would indicate an artificial object like a booster rocket or similar huge object left over from some satellite launch. ALSO NOTE that the object appears to be "highly elongated" and spinning rapidly, based on the light variations seen by earth-based telescopes
Thus far, there is no man-made object that NASA is aware of that has been launched of this size, mass and one which would attain such an unusual orbit; further complicatiing things is that the orbit of this unknown object is fairly stable and not subject to orbital "decay" as one would expect from something launched from Earth.
For orbital aficionados, following is the "pseudo-MPEC" that has been developed by Bill Gray using FindOrb:
Orbital elements: 2016 HO3 Perihelion 2016 Oct 2.611003 +/- 0.00061 TT = 14:39:50 (JD 2457664.111003)
Epoch 2016 May 6.0 TT = JDT 2457514.5
Earth MOID: 0.0346
Find_Orb M 212.75019 +/- 0.0006 n 0.98421773 +/- 5.66e-8 Peri. 307.37186 +/- 0.00034 a 1.00094125 +/- 3.84e-8 Node 66.52281 +/- 0.00027 e 0.1042305 +/- 3.38e-6 Incl. 7.77279 +/- 0.00024 P 1.00/365.77d H 24.0 G 0.15 U 1.7 q 0.89661265 +/- 3.35e-6 Q 1.10526986 +/- 3.42e-6 48 of 49 observations 2012 Apr. 26-2016 May 11; mean residual 0".344
More updated information from NASA on this object can be found at:
Stay tuned on this one.....it has piqued the intrigue and interest and very much stirred the curiosity of NASA and other scientists.
I will report on updates as I learn more.