Small asteroid tracked to atmospheric impact and breakup

Katie Ramirez
June 6, 2018

Initial estimates had the impact zone stretching from southern Africa across the Indian Ocean into New Guinea.

However, since the asteroid was determined to be so small and therefore harmless, no further impact alerts were issued by NASA.

"T$3 his real-world event allows us to exercise our capabilities and gives some confidence our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to the potential impact of a larger object", said Lindley Johnson, an official at NASA's Planetary Defense team, which tracks and warns of asteroids that may pose a threat to the planet.

This is only the third time that an asteroid with an impact trajectory has been discovered, and only the second time that such a "high level of probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself", according to Paul Chodas, manager for CNEOS. Later calculations showed the rock, dubbed 2018 LA, hit the top of the discernible atmosphere at a blistering 17 kilometres per second (38,000 mph) and broke apart several miles above the surface. Traveling at 38,000 miles per hour, the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere at 6:44 p.m. local Botswana time (12:44 p.m. EDT). Researchers were also able to narrow the projected impact location using the automated Scout system at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The video was captured at a farm just across the border in South Africa.

He said: 'The advantage I had was I saw it in colour and it was not like on the cameras.

An asteroid four times as big exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 in an airburst blowing out windows and injuring over 1,500 people with cuts caused by flying glass and debris.

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Designated 2018 LA, the asteroid was small enough that it was expected to safely disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere.

The boulder-size asteroid was discovered on Saturday morning, according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies.

Only twice before has a small asteroid been detected hours before colliding with Earth. The signal is consistent with an atmospheric impact over Botswana.

The first event of this kind was the impact of asteroid 2008 TC3, which lit up the predawn sky above Northern Sudan on October 7, 2008.

A 2008 asteroid was spotted by Kowalski 19 hours in advance and measured 13 feet, or 4 meters. The second predicted impact event was for asteroid 2014 AA, which was discovered only a few hours before impact on January 1, 2014, in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving too little time for follow-up observations.

Smaller objects are fainter and more hard to spot in a large sky, though efforts like the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey are increasingly able to search a wider field of sky to find these somewhat elusive objects.

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