Earth’s “New Moon”

Arguably the single most well known celestial object in the universe by us humans is the moon. But which one? Growing up, we all learn that Earth has a single moon that orbits us every day. However, a moon is simply defined as a natural satellite that orbits Earth. Much to my surprise, it turns out that Earth has more than one natural satellite. Introducing Cruithne, our second moon.

Frames from the GIF were acquired from the GFDL-licensed Celestia program in the form of screen shots. Screen captures were converted into an animated GIF using GraphicConverter’s batch edit feature by Jecowa.

Although no bigger than a few kilometers wide, there is no doubt that this asteroid currently orbits the Earth. What makes this moon so different from the moon we all thought we knew is its unique orbital pattern. Cruithne’s orbit is an interesting “horseshoe” shape. This same shape is also seen with many of Saturn’s moons. This asteroid/moon makes an ellipse around Earth at about 364 days per cycle; almost the exact same time it takes the Earth to orbit around the Sun. The video below gives more insight towards the dimensions of Cruithne’s orbit around Earth.

Scientific advancements like this change what we used to know into what we now. This discovery begs many other questions that can be further explored. How many other natural satellites are currently orbiting Earth that we do not know about? Surely, with greater technological and scientific advancements, we will find out a number of new things about the universe around us. Furthermore, if it took us this long to find out about something so close to us, and the universe is so expansive, how can we even begin to interpret what is out there? These are all questions that seem impossible to answer right now, but keep in mind that there was also a time when it was “impossible” for Earth to have two moons.

Although the African cultural astronomers obviously did not know about Earth’s second moon, they believed in the idea of lunar enlightenment. For example, in Luba culture the moon plays a large role in the way ceremonies and spirituality is viewed. Not only are twins considered “children of the moon” – ironic because now we have two moons – but white pigment is added onto their faces during ceremonies to symbolize moonlight.

Female figure Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo Mid- to late 19th century Wood, quartz Felix collection
Female figure
Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mid- to late 19th century
Wood, quartz
Felix collection

The piece included in the exhibit indicates a woman with a quartz crystal embedded in her crown. The quartz captures and reflects the moonlight which is associated closely with the divination and enlightenment during dreams. It is interesting to think about the difference it would have made on Tabwa and Luba culture had they known that we had two moons. Surely, the tales and beliefs would be different, but perhaps understanding the natural satellites of Earth would hold a deeper meaning in their cultures that outsiders can not truly understand.

Source:

Forgan, Duncan. “The ‘Second Moon’ You Didn’t Know Earth Had – The Crux.” The Crux. N.p., 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

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