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Earth's 'pseudo-moon' might be a chip off the real one

Earth has an entourage: a handful of small quasi-satellites that hang around in unstable orbits as the planet circles the sun. Now, new evidence from Arizona telescopes suggests one of them is made of material from the moon.

The research appears in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. 

Roughly one-third the size of an American football field, Kamo'oalewa is only observable for about a month each year.

Data from the Large Binocular Telescope at Mount Graham and the infrared Lowell Discovery Telescope near Happy Jack surprised lead author Benjamin Sharkey of University of Arizona.

"Our reaction to it was to say, 'Alright, let's get more data.' And then in 2021, we got more data. And then we said, 'Well, okay, I think now we can say something about this,'" Sharkey said. 

He says they tried every other practical explanation, including a captured asteroid.

"At the end, we conclude that lunar material provides a better match than anything else we could come up with," he said. 

That, combined with its orbital path, suggests Kamo'oalewa might have broken off from the moon during an impact.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.