In 2002–2003, an object called J002E3 passed close to the earth in a chaotic orbit.
According to NASA CNEOS (Center for Near Earth Object Studies) the orbit looked like this:
My question is about the point I've circled in orange. It appears that J002E3 passed four times through almost the same point, relative to the Earth-Moon system. It's a bit inside the orbit of the Moon.
There is a similar point on the other side of the Earth-Moon system that was crossed three times.
My question is: Is this at all surprising? Is this sort of repeat crossing typical of chaotic orbits?
Supposing that the apparent coincidence is real, I can think of some possible explanations for it:
- It's a lucky fluke.
- J002E3 crossed the Moon's orbit 14 times, and if you distribute 14 points at random onto a circle there will naturally be some clumping and 4 points close together is not too surprising.
- There is something in the physics of orbital mechanics that makes this sort of repeat crossing likely.
or some combination of these. (Perhaps three of the crossings can be explained by orbital mechanics, but the first crossing, which was in the opposite direction, is a coincidence.) Or is it something else?
Also, what question should I have asked about this that I didn't think of?