Tag Archives: IFLScience

Earth’s second moon

In a recent article by Duncan Forgan posted on Discover Magazine’s website and IFLScience, claims were made about Earth having a second moon. Now, if you’re like this writer, you might initially be curious about that concept, perhaps asking that if there’s a second moon, why don’t we see it sitting by our regular one each night?

The thing is, moons don’t have to be able to be seen by the naked eye. Moons are simply defined as an astronomical object that qualifies as a natural satellite to its planet.

Forgan’s article claims that the astronomical object known as 3753 Cruithne is our planet’s second moon. Cruithne is about three miles across with a gravity of 67P, which is considered very weak — walking too quickly on its surface would send you floating off solid ground. This so-called moon is a firmly mid-sized non-planetary body.

moons
“The thing is, moons don’t have to be able to be seen by the naked eye. Moons are simply defined as an astronomical object that qualifies as a natural satellite to its planet.”

This size and gravity doesn’t disqualify Cruithne as a moon. However, according to an article posted on Earthysky last July, Cruithne is not a true satellite, but a quasi-satellite for Earth — in fact, one of many similar astronomical bodies. This classification relies solely on the objects orbit.

Cruithne does orbit the sun at the same rate as the Earth, however, it doesn’t orbit the Earth as our actual moon does. Instead, astronomers discovered in 1997 that it runs around the inner solar system in what’s known as a “horseshoe” orbit.

This orbit path is unique as the object moves toward its planet, turns round and moves away. After moving away, it approaches the planet from the other side and it turns round and moves away again. Cruithne is special as it makes it’s horshoe orbit very sloppily, taking nearly 800 years to make a ring around Earth.

Astronomers have created computer models that show Cruithne may spend another 5,000 years in its current orbit, then enter a true orbit around Earth and finally qualifying as a real second moon for our planet. However, this wouldn’t last too long as these same astronomers estimate that 3,000 years later Cruithne would be flung back into its old orbit around the sun.

So no, Earth doesn’t really have a second moon, at least not for now. What we do have is a pretty cool pseudo-moon that shows us a unique characteristic of certain astronomical bodies. It’s given astronomers new information on orbiters and has plenty of other knowledge left to share, such as forensic evidence regarding how planets were assembled. Currently, scientists are hoping that its strange orbit will give insight on how the solar system evolves under gravity.

 

American scientists v. the rest of us

Traditionally, the relationship between our nation’s scientists and the rest of us has been somewhat distant. It’s hard to accept what you don’t understand without a serious education — even scientists have to accept findings outside their individual fields that they may not quite comprehend. However, some disturbing trends have caused concern over the nature of disparities between these parties.

Scientists are annoyed with the public. Graphic from Totally Off Beat
Scientists are annoyed with the public. Graphic from Totally Off Beat

A recent set of surveys by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) found that scientists and the public have widely different views about scientific issues. Their research shows that the scientists surveyed tended to have a more positive opinion of many newer technologies than the general public.

While it’s been clear to many that these disparities exist (such as the ongoing debate on global climate change), the most troubling result of these surveys is that they show a small decline in positive views about science. In a study done in 2009, 83% of Americans felt that science made life better, whereas the numbers from 2014 show that only 79% of Americans share this view.

Major differences in the views of scientists surveyed and the public include GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), pesticides, and fracking. Most scientists (88%) said they viewed GMO foods as safe, but only 37% of their fellow Americans said they felt the same. Similarly, 68% of scientists stated that pesticides are safe, but only about a fourth (28%, to be exact) of the US public said they shared the belief. And 39% of the American public said they are for fracking, whereas only 31% of the surveyed scientists agreed.

AAAS CEO Alan Leshner responded to these poll results, claiming “such disparity is alarming because it ultimately affects both science policy and scientific progress.”

The economy, policies on natural resources, and our own self-care are only a few of the areas that scientific innovations make a huge impact on our nation. Therefore, the public opinion and accessible communications between the public and scientists are a major concern for all Americans. This set of surveys simply underscores the necessity of improving communications on both scientific work and the motivations behind it.

Clearly, there’s  a need to ensure that science maintains and builds its place in our society through having members of the scientific community engage with the public in ways that allow them to hear from fellow citizens. Unfortunately, oftentimes the loudest voices of disagreement from those sharing opinions with our nation’s scientists seem to be aggressive, labeling people as deniers or irrational.

Hopefully, with these new figures to motivate, those like curator of IFLScience Elise Andrew will continue trying to make scientific innovations and understanding more accessible and fun to engage in, as well as motivating others to further the effort.