New Discovery: Ghost Moons Orbiting Earth

Astronomers from Budapest have discovered what appear to be ghost moons orbiting our planet. (Image: via  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Astronomers from Budapest have discovered what appear to be ghost moons orbiting our planet. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Astronomers from Budapest have discovered what appear to be “ghost moonsz’ orbiting our planet. Deemed to be too faint to be observed by the naked eye, this is the first time that someone has produced irrefutable evidence of their existence.

The ghost moons

Unlike what the name indicates, ghost moons are not actually like the moon we know that orbits the Earth. They are not solid objects at all. “These false moons are hazy clouds of dust that span tens of thousands of miles across, but were too subtle to see with the naked eye when Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski discovered them in 1961. Kordylewski tried to convince other scientists of their existence, but failed since his evidence was too faint,” according to The Weather Channel.

The discovery was made by Judit Slíz-Balogh and Gábor Horváth from the Eötvös Loránd University by using a specially-equipped telescope. Images were published in the October issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in which the ghost moons appear as indistinct patches of light with the stark darkness of space in the background.

What makes ghost moons even more interesting is the fact that they orbit Earth at nearly the same distance as our Moon. While one cloud is orbiting ahead of the moon, the second cloud is behind in the region where the Moon cancels out Earth’s gravitational pull. These regions are known to accumulate gas and dust that can last for several decades.

kordylewski_cloud-text

The ghost moons appear as indistinct patches of light with the stark darkness of space in the background. (Image: G Horváth via Royal Astronomical Society)

“The idea here is that when you have a biggish object, like the Earth, orbited by a smaller one, like the Moon, there are regions of space where the centrifugal force balances gravity. Put a much smaller object there, and it’ll stay there for a long time,” astronomer Phillip Plait said to NBC News.

This essentially means that the clouds are merely transient and will eventually dissipate over coming decades. The only thing scientists are not sure of is how long the cloud will continue to orbit the Earth.

“The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and although they are as close to Earth as the Moon, they are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor,” said Slíz-Balogh (Cosmos).

Alien asteroid

In addition to ghost moons, one more discovery has captured the interest of scientists in recent times — a cigar-shaped asteroid that some say was built by an alien civilization.

Astronomers from Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics detected an unusual speed boost and shift in trajectory from the object as it passed through the solar system. Named Oumuamua, it was the rapid changes of the asteroid that made scientists propose an alien origin for the object.

oumuamua

Astronomers from Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics detected an unusual speed boost and shift in trajectory from the object as it passed through the solar system. (Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

“One possibility is that Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment. Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” according to the research paper referenced in The Sun.

Interestingly, scientists who work on long-distance space transportation have theorized the ideal interstellar spacecraft shape to be either a cigar or a needle, as it would minimize friction and protect the ship from damage caused by interstellar dust and gas.

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