A new study has suggested that astronomers have located our moon’s “long-lost twin”. The asteroid, that’s called (101429) 1998 VF31, measures 3,280 feet (1 kilometer or 0.62 miles) in width and is located behind Mars. Even though it was first discovered 22 years ago, recent studies have just revealed that it is “strikingly similar” to our moon.
The asteroid was studied by scientists from the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) in Northern Ireland and they believe that it did break off of our moon approximately 4 billion years ago during a gigantic impact.
In an interview with MailOnline, Dr. Apostolos Christou from AOP explained how they used spectral matching to study the space rock. “It’s similar to the photo-IDing done by the police when chasing crooks, you try to match your data – the spectral profile – against the same type of data taken from other objects, for example other asteroids or meteorites,” he said, adding, “None of these matches were particularly satisfactory until we included spectra of the Moon in our analysis. The similarity to parts of the lunar surface was striking.”
The asteroid is part of the Mars Trojans and orbits our sun at around a 60 degree angle either behind or in front of the Red Planet. It is stuck in the Lagrange point which is a spot where the combined gravitational forces of two bigger objects cancel each other out, causing the third smaller body to remain in place.
Based on their research, scientists noticed that VF31 is much different than the other Mars Trojans as it had certain resemblances to our moon. They think that a big asteroid hit the moon which caused a piece of the lunar surface to break off.
Dr. Christou explained this further, “The space between the newly-formed planets was full of debris and collisions were commonplace.” “Large asteroids – we call these planetesimals – were hitting the Moon and the other planets.” “A shard from such a collision could have reached the orbit of Mars when the planet was still forming and was trapped in its Trojan clouds.”
Prior studies were conducted in order to predict the series of events in which the lunar chunk would have been launched into space. Based on the fact that the rock is only about a kilometer in width, it would have been flying at a speed of around 5,368 miles per hour in order to leave the gravitational pull of the moon. It would have then been traveling at a minimum speed of 7,829 mph when it entered into the sun’s orbit.
And in order for the space rock to travel at this tremendous speed, the moon would have been hit by an object that measured at least 77 miles and traveling at around 22,369 mph prior to the impact. The impact would have made a crater that measured approximately 604 miles in width. In their study (which can be read here), the researchers wrote in part, “This is considerably smaller than the size of the largest lunar basin; therefore this scenario is at least plausible.”
What’s even more shocking is that there may be more moon “twins” lurking around the solar system. “Perhaps there is some other asteroid out there that looks exactly like this one; so far we haven’t found it. But we will keep looking,” Dr. Christou stated.
While it isn’t confirmed yet that the space rock is in fact a piece of the moon, the new research is certainly compelling.