Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility A Profound Cosmic Revelation | Thread by Latif Nasser - Lowell Observatory

A Profound Cosmic Revelation | Thread by Latif Nasser

The following is an X (formerly known as Twitter) thread posted by Canadian-American researcher, writer and presenter Latif Nasser (@latifnasser). You can find the original thread here!

Last January, I noticed something peculiar in my 2yo’s bedroom that – after a year of obsessive reporting – led me to a profound cosmic revelation about what’s even possible in our universe. A thread:

So about a year ago, I was putting my little guy to bed in his crib and I noticed a strange detail on the solar system poster up on his wall …

A solar system poster. The Sun in the middle as an orange ball.  All the planets orbiting with their respective moons. At the bottom the planets arranged in order of distance from the sun. And the title of the poster THE SOLAR SYSTEM in all caps.

Venus had a moon called Zoozve. Huh, I thought. Never heard of that.

Close up of the poster. You see a bit of the sun on the right. Mercury going around the sun. Venus going around the sun behind it.  Next to Venus a dot with a label: ZOOZVE.

Put the kid to bed, went back to my room and googled “Does Venus have a moon?” First hit was from NASA: “Venus has no moons.” Weird.

NASA website labeled Venus facts with an image of venus and different categories of info about it, for example Introduction, Orbit and Rotation, Potential for Life, Moons, Rings, etc.On the same NASA webpage, under Moons, it says "Venus has no moons."

Then I googled “Zoozve” and got no results, literally zero results in English. Only results were in Czech and they were about zoos. Not what I was looking for.

Google results for the word Zoozve and they all have the domain extension of .cz, and none of them are in English, all of them are in Czech, one has an image of an elephant.Image of a seal balancing a ball on its nose. The ball says Zoo.

I called a friend (@lizlandau) who has worked with NASA for a decade and she confirmed: Venus is completely moonless. And she had definitely never heard of Zoozve.

Liz, a woman with long hair and a maroon shirt. Sits in front of a bookcase, at a table with a laptop on it, a scientific paper open on the laptop. She is shrugging.

This started to bug me: why make up a moon on a kids’ poster? And why call it Zoozve?! (Best guess: it was a prank and Zoozve was the illustrator’s dog’s name.)

Close up of the poster. You see a bit of the sun on the right. Mercury going around the sun. Venus going around the sun behind it.  Next to Venus a dot with a label: ZOOZVE.

So I called the illustrator, a Brit named Alex Foster. (He does have a dog, but it’s named Winnie.) He didn’t know much about astronomy but he swore he didn’t make it up. He said he found it on a big list of all the moons online. I believed him, but couldn’t find the list.

Illustrator Alex Foster, a slim guy wearing a blue collared shirt, stands at a table display with a bunch of his posters (one about animals, one about the moon, one with birds of paradise flowers). The Solar System poster featuring Zoozve is one of the posters.Illustrator Alex Foster sitting at his desk working on the Solar system poster with Zoozve in it. On the desk is a computer, speaker, pencils, lamp, headphones, and so on. Lot of postcards and posters up on the wall of naturescapes and so on.

Around that time, I got a text from Liz at NASA: “Wait Latif I think I figured it out!!!”

Liz, a woman with long hair, earrings and a maroon shirt sitting in front of a bookcase, at a table with a laptop, holding her finger up like she figured something out!

It wasn’t ZOOZVE, it was 2002-VE, which is an actual object near Venus. The illustrator Alex confirmed that he probably misread his own writing. Aha! 2002VE! Okay so what IS 2002VE??

Screen shot of text from Liz Landau. She writes: "Wait Latif I think I figured it out!!! It's not ZOOZVe, It's 2002VE!" Then she sends a link to a wikipedia page for an object called 2002VE68. "(Which I had never heard of before) What a weird thing to include in a solar system diagram! Anyway great to talk to you!"Close up of Zoozve on the solar system poster with Zoozve crossed out and 2002-VE written in instead.

2002-VE68 (its technical designation) is a giant rock. Imagine a gray pockmarked potato the size of the Eiffel Tower. (We don’t have pics of it, but this one is similar.)

But the weirder and harder question: is Zoozve (gonna just keep calling it Zoozve) a moon of Venus or not?

Asteroid that looks like a potato shaped gray rock, half of it in shadow.

So I tracked down the person who discovered it: Brian Skiff at Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

He has actually discovered so many asteroids that when I talked to him, he had no idea what I was talking about, genuinely didn’t remember this one.

Picture of a smiling Brian Skiff, long silver hair, wearing glasses and a fleece sweater, outside against a background of yellow flowers and a slightly cloudy sky.timelapse image of Lowell observatory tower at night with stars and planets spinning all around 360 image of the inside of an observatory lit up with red light.

He said that he found it as part of the LONEOS project, an industrial-scale asteroid scavenger hunt that Congress funded during the 90s/00s when everyone was obsessed with what would happen if one hit earth. Sometimes they discovered hundreds of asteroids in a single night.

Movie poster for ARMAGEDDON with the title in big white letters against the backdrop of an giant asteroid hitting earth with tons of flame. Photos of actors Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck. And a space shuttle in the bottom.Time magazine cover illustration of an asteroid hitting Jupiter. Headline: COSMIC CRASH: A shattered comet is about to hit Jupiter, creating the biggest explosion ever witnessed in the solar system. Could it happen here on earth? Yes ...Movie poster for DEEP IMPACT (due out in Summer 1998). A meteor hitting the earth. Tagline: "Heaven and Earth are about to Collide"

Once Skiff realized Zoozve wasn’t a threat, he stopped tracking it. BUT I found 2 astronomers who kept looking: Seppo Mikkola in Finland & Paul Wiegert in Canada.

They told me that Zoozve is NOT a moon of Venus. But it’s also NOT NOT a moon of Venus. It’s both and neither. WTH?

A paper description titled "Asteroid 2002 VE68, a quasi-satellite of Venus" by Mikkola, S, Brasser, R, Wiegert, P, and Innanen, K.

Turns out basically everything in our solar system orbits ONE thing. Earth orbits the Sun. The Moon orbits the Earth. Etc. If you are a body in the solar system, you hula hoop one bigger thing. That’s what you do … Except for Zoozve.

Textbook-type image from NOAA of Earth orbiting the sun, and moon orbiting the Earth

Zoozve orbits one thing: the sun. It spends all day every day doing that. BUT Venus also has a teeny gravitational toehold on it such that it ALSO ORBITS VENUS AT THE SAME TIME.

Holyshit Jurassic Park GIF - Holyshit Jurassic Park Alan Grant - Discover &  Share GIFs

It’s a whole new category of thing. Something that orbits a star and a planet at once. Something that is not a moon, but also not not a moon. They call it … a quasi-moon.

Netflix poster for Rebel Moon with Rebel crossed out and Quasi- written instead.

Astronomers had been speculating that such an object could exist for 100+ years, but this was the first time anyone saw one … not only in our solar system but in the entire universe!!

Hubble telescope deep field photo of the entire universe, with streaks which are asteroids

But since they found Zoozve they’ve been finding all sorts of other quasi-moons (aka co-orbital objects) all over the solar system. They ring around the sun, but then seem to do weird patterns around their closest planet:

Billy Mayes GIF

Some (called Trojans) stay in one spot ahead of or behind the planet, like a secret service agent. Some do horseshoes: go mostly around a planet but then turn around and go back the other way. My favorites do a comma shape, just wiggling back & forth. Those are called tadpoles.

Horseshoe orbit - Wikipedia

And by the way, Earth even has at least seven different quasi moons dancing around us right now!!! The most recent one was discovered in 2023!!

ABC News article headline: The Earth Has a Second Moon - Sort ofSky and Telescope headline: Does Earth have a new Quasi-moon?

Also, quasi-moons can switch planets! We (Earth) were probably the ones who – 7,000 yrs ago – flung Zoozve over to Venus in the first place. Zoozve is going to leave Venus a few millennia from now, but no one knows where it will go next.

Paper titled "On the Dynamical Evolution of 2002 VE 68" by C. and R. de la Fuente Marcos

Anyway, I think this is so cool because everything else on the solar system map is so regular and orderly, but not quasi-moons! It’s like we discovered a bunch of new weirdos who seem to be dancing to the beat of their own drum.

Elaine Dancing GIFs | Tenor

Contrary to the posters, we don’t live in a big clockwork, we live in a dance club, and while some of us are doing the same old waltz with our same old moon, there are bodies out there do-si-do-ing their way all over the solar system.

Enchanting Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

How inspiring is it that we are alive at a time when we are just discovering this new class of paradoxical and promiscuous rock stars like Zoozve that remind us how weird and temporary and connected everything in the universe is. And how much we still don’t know.

beautiful flowery orbit of CRUITHNE, one of earth's quasi moons.beautiful flowery orbit of CRUITHNE, one of earth's quasi moons.

One last thing. If you want to hear more about this strange object, check out the latest episode of Radiolab. Tons more there I haven’t mentioned here.

Including my detailed plan to officially rename 2002-VE68 to “ZOOZVE” to immortalize the typo and thus retroactively make the poster in my kid’s room correct! This plan falls into the category of so-crazy-it-just-might-work. And we will know the answer VERY soon. END OF THREAD.

Close up of Zoozve on the poster, crossed out and replaced with 2002VE, which in turn is crossed out and replaced with ZOOVE again

Photo credits: 

Photo of Alex Foster at home by Alex Foster; Photo of Alex at poster display by Spoon Shao.
Photos of Liz Landau by Ben Klemens.
Photo of Brian Skiff by Cody Half-Moon
Photo of Lowell Observatory by Tom Polakis.
RL episode art by Jared Bartman.
GIFs of quasi-moon orbits all from Phoenix7777
Image of Cruithne rock star orbit from Britoca and Astroras YouTube channels.