Earth was recently visited by a large asteroid, first discovered in 1998 and ironically given the name Asteroid QE2.
As this page from the NASA website explains, the asteroid made its closest approach to earth (until it returns in another 200 years) on May 31 at 1:59 in the afternoon, Pacific time (4:59 pm Eastern / 2059 UTC). Its approach only brought it to a distance of 3.6 million miles away -- about 15 times the distance of the earth and the moon, according to NASA.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this flyby was the discovery based on radar imagery, captured on the evening of May 29 this week, that Asteroid 1998 QE2 has its own small "moon" traveling in tandem with the asteroid on its lonely journey through space. Scientists estimate that Asteroid QE2 itself is 1.7 miles in diameter, while its partner is only 2,000 feet wide. Asteroids that travel in tandem with another asteroid are sometimes called binaries, and as the NASA site says, scientists estimate that about 16% of the near-earth asteroids 200 meters in size or larger (655 feet or larger) have moons.
While the asteroid and its companion received a lot of press, very few of the articles tackle the question of how an asteroid could capture another asteroid as its moon (including the NASA discussion of Asteroid QE2 and its moon). No mention is made of just how difficult of a physics problem that is, and the general public is basically left with the impression that binary asteroids are not difficult to explain.
In fact, asteroids like QE2 that possess moons are very difficult to explain under conventional theories, as Dr. Walt Brown, originator of the hydroplate theory, discusses in the chapter of his book devoted to "The Origin of Asteroids and Meteorites."
Conventional attempts to explain the origin of the asteroids that orbit the sun in our solar system often posit that they are space rocks that were on their way to becoming a planet, but never quite managed to do so -- the so-called "failed-planet theory." Another theory, a bit more out on a limb, is the hypothesis that the asteroids are the remnants of an exploded planet. Some analysts even believe that this exploded planet was destroyed in a cosmic war, rather than exploding due to some kind of natural event.
Dr. Brown explains that neither of these theories can easily explain the presence of asteroids with moons. Part 6 of "Question 7" located just over halfway down this page in Dr. Brown's discussion of asteroids and meteorites outlines some of the problems in explaining binary asteroids:
Some asteroids have captured one or more moons. [See Figure 168.] Sometimes the “moon” and asteroid are similar in size. Impacts would not create equal-size fragments that could capture each other.48 The only conceivable way for this to happen is if a potential moon enters an asteroid’s expanding sphere of influence while traveling about the same speed and direction as the asteroid. If even a thin gas surrounds the asteroid, the moon will be drawn closer to the asteroid, preventing the moon from being stripped away later. An “exploded planet” would disperse relatively little gas. The “failed planet explanation” meets none of the requirements. The hydroplate theory satisfies all the requirements.
In addition to their problems explaining asteroid moons, the failed-planet theory and the exploded-planet theory have problems in and of themselves.
This previous post, entitled "Comet origins and the mysteries of mankind's ancient past" discusses some of the work of the late Dr. Tom Van Flandern, who was a proponent of the exploded-planet theory, as well as an astronomer who pointed out the numerous problems with the conventional explanations for the origin of comets (a subject discussed in that and several other previous blog posts). In spite of the fact that the exploded-planet theory has some problems, those who are exploring that theory should be commended for realizing the many problems with the conventional paradigm that is usually offered as the only explanation (whether the paradigm of mankind's ancient past or of the origin of the various bodies in our solar system).
This previous blog post, provides a list of evidence that appear to cause serious difficulties for either the exploded-planet theory, the failed-planet theory, or both. It also discusses the asteroid-origin theory put forward by Dr. Brown, who believes that most of the asteroids are actually fragments violently ejected from earth during the rupture that led to a cataclysmic global flood. While such a proposal for the origin of asteroids may initially sound preposterous, it turns out that this theory explains many of the puzzling aspects of asteroids (as well as meteoroids and comets), including the presence of binary asteroid pairs. The interested reader should take the time to read Dr. Brown's entire chapter on the subject for the complete discussion (and then to peruse the other chapters of his book, which detail thousands of other geological pieces of evidence on our planet which support this theory of a catastrophic flood).
On the very first page of his chapter on asteroid origins, Dr. Brown has posted a photograph of asteroid Ida, taken in 1993 by the Galileo spacecraft. That image shows Ida to have a mile-wide moon, orbiting about 60 miles away from Ida (the moon was then named Dactyl). In his discussion of Ida and Dactyl, and asteroid binaries in general, Dr. Brown writes:
Asteroid Ida and Its Moon, Dactyl. In 1993, the Galileo spacecraft, heading toward Jupiter, took this picture 2,000 miles from asteroid Ida. To the surprise of most, Ida had a moon (about 1 mile in diameter) orbiting 60 miles away! Both Ida and Dactyl are composed of earthlike rock. We now know at least 200 other asteroids have moons; nine asteroids have two moons.1 According to the laws of orbital mechanics (described in the preceding chapter), capturing a moon in space is unbelievably difficult—unless both the asteroid and a nearby potential moon had very similar speeds and directions and unless gases surrounded the asteroid during capture. If so, the asteroid, its moon, and each gas molecule were probably coming from the same place and were launched about the same time. Within a million years, passing bodies would have stripped the moons away, so these asteroid-moon captures must have been recent.From a distance, large asteroids look like big rocks. However, many show, by their low density, that they contain either much empty space or something light, such as water ice.2 Also, the best close-up pictures of an asteroid show millions of smaller rocks on its surface. Therefore, asteroids are flying rock piles held together by gravity. Ida, about 35 miles long, does not have enough gravity to squeeze itself into a spherical shape.
These are important issues surrounding the question of asteroids with moons. The point about the moons being stripped away after a million years (or less) is very important, especially since most proponents of the conventional "failed-planet theory" believe that the asteroids are leftovers from a very early period in our solar system's history. Elsewhere in the chapter, Dr. Brown also points out that tidal effects (which he describes in the "Technical Notes" section of his book) would "limit the lifetime of the moons of asteroids to about 100,000 years."
For some reason, the recent articles proclaiming the discovery of the moon orbiting Asteroid 1998 QE2 do not seem to mention these problems.
The discovery this week of the moon orbiting QE2 is just another example of the wide array of evidence that the hydroplate theory can explain but which conventional theories have serious problems explaining. It is interesting to consider that, since the moon around QE2 was only discovered on May 29 of this year, Dr. Brown could not have known about its existence when he wrote his book.
The existence of another binary asteroid, however, is not as surprising to those who know about the hydroplate theory as it should be to those who do not.