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Turns out Earth has 3 ‘moons’ — but there’s a reason you can only see one, study says

The Earth has two other massive “moons” made of dust that orbit the Earth at the same distance as our visible moon, a study in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society says.
The Earth has two other massive “moons” made of dust that orbit the Earth at the same distance as our visible moon, a study in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society says. NASA

It turns out the Earth might boast more “moons” than just one.

But it’s probably not what you’d expect.

That’s according to a new study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, which found that our planet also has two massive clouds of small dust orbiting around it along with the moon.

They are called Kordylewski clouds, and just like our moon, they have about 250,000 miles of distance between them and Earth.

“Though they are as close to Earth as the moon, (Kordylewski clouds) are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy,” study coauthor Judit Slíz-Balogh said in a press release. “It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor.”

To find these hidden “moons,” researchers looked at the Earth and Moon’s five Lagrange Points, which NASA explained as “positions in space where the gravitational forces of a two body system like the Sun and the Earth produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion.” Every two body system — be it the Moon and Earth or the Sun and Earth for example — has five of those points that pack a gravitational pull.

The Lagrange Points have the gravitational power to keep smaller objects orbiting in place — and researchers say they found the clouds of dust orbiting at L4 and L5. The idea of dust clouds at those points was first theorized in 1961 by Kazimierz Kordylewski.

And they are pretty big — National Geographic noted that the dust “moons” have a width that’s nine times more than our own planet.

With the aid of camera filters, the researchers found reflected light at points L4 and L5 that couldn’t be dismissed with other explanations, instead pointing to the existence of the lurking dust clouds, the study says. And while most of the Kordylewski cloud is made up of small particles, the study notes that “even rock-sized objects” can get caught up in Lagrange Point 5.

While they might sound theoretical and confusing, the Lagrange Points between Earth and Moon could play an important role in the future of humanity’s travels in space because of their ability to keep objects in a certain area, according to the study’s authors.

“These points are suitable for spacecraft, satellite or space telescope parking with minimal fuel consumption (none the less, at the moment, there are no spacecraft orbiting at either L4 or L5 in the Solar system), or they can be applied as transfer stations for the mission to Mars or other planets, and/or to the interplanetary superhighway,” the study says.

And if you think dust “moons” sound weird, you’ll probably feel the same way about “moonmoons.”

That’s right — researchers from the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the University of Bordeaux recently published a working paper that theorized some moons could have their own smaller moons, which are for some reason just called “moonmoons.” Moonmoons that are too big for their regular moons either go into space or find a larger planet to orbit, the study said.

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