It’s official: Earth has more than just one moon out there in its orbit.
Well, sort of. National Geographic reports that a pair of particulate clouds–“dustballs,” in essence–have been located in Earth’s orbit at a distance roughly equal to that of the moon itself. The unusual formations were suspected to have existed for decades already, although this was only recently confirmed by a team of Hungarian astronomers and physicists with Eötvös Loránd University.
Located around 250,000 miles from Earth, these outer space dustballs, known as “Kordylewski clouds,” are roughly the same distance from Earth as the moon, although they are much wider–as much as nine times–than the Earth.
Despite their size, they are apparently extremely difficult to find, too.
The clouds were first spotted as far back as 1961 by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski, and are among a variety of other supposed natural objects or formations hypothesized to accompany the moon in orbit around the Earth. Since Kordylewski’s initial observation, the unusual clouds had remained unconfirmed by other observers; some even doubted whether they existed at all.
“It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor,” study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh told National Geographic.
In past articles here at MU, I’ve chronicled the odd history of past searches for a hypothetical “second moon” in orbit around the Earth. Although there has never been convincing evidence that such a feature–generally referred to as a “moonlet”–has ever existed, there have been some notable cases where scientists thought they might be on the verge of such a discovery.