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The Moon seen from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

A relatively small piece of rock that sticks close to Earth in its orbit around the Sun may actually be a broken-off hunk of the Moon, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Learning more about the possible origins of mysterious objects even in nearby space can help researchers piece together the evolution of our solar system from its earliest days to now.

State of play: A new study in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment suggests the object Kamo'oalewa has properties that indicate it could actually be a piece of the Moon that broke off and orbits the Sun while remaining near Earth.

  • Originally, scientists thought Kamo'oalewa, which was discovered in 2016, was an asteroid captured by Earth's gravity at some point in the past, but this new data suggests otherwise.
  • The team used a telescope to put together a spectrum — the reflected light — from the space rock's surface and matched it to Moon rocks, which look very similar.
  • "This spring, we got much needed follow-up observations and went, 'Wow, it is real,'" Ben Sharkey, an author of the study, said in a statement. "It's easier to explain with the Moon than other ideas."

The big question: How did Kamo'oalewa break off from the Moon and form?

  • Scientists don't yet have an answer to that question, but it's possible a meteor impact cleaved some material from the Moon, allowing it to form the Ferris wheel-sized object.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Nov 23, 2021 - Science

Last blasts of a dying star

The white dwarf KPD 0005+5106 seen in X-ray. Photo: NASA/CXC/ASIAA/Y.-H. Chu, et al.

A white dwarf star 1,300 light-years from Earth is blasting out radiation and ripping apart a companion in its orbit.

Why it matters: One day, scientists think the Sun will burn through its fuel and become a dense white dwarf. By learning more about this star, astronomers might be able to get a better sense of the future of our solar system.

Updated 11 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 13 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

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