Published: Tue, June 05, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Asteroid on course for Earth spotted hours before impact with atmosphere

Asteroid on course for Earth spotted hours before impact with atmosphere

This rock, like every small asteroid that hits or flies close by the Earth only a short time after its detection, confirms what we always say about asteroids. The asteroid hit Earth's atmosphere over the southern African nation of Botswana at 12:44 p.m. EDT (1644 GMT) while hurtling down at a whopping 38,000 miles per hour (61,155 km/h).

"This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about", Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release. "However, this 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".

Catalina Sky Survey astronomers reported the asteroid finding to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which managed to calculate a preliminary trajectory for the asteroid.

This most recent rock, called 2018 LA, was spotted on 2 June by the Catalina Sky Survey in the US.

He said: "The discovery of asteroid 2018 LA is only the third time that an asteroid has been discovered to be on an impact trajectory".

The Minor Planet Center then reported the asteroidto CNEOS. Here's how to know for sure!

Trajectory path of ZLAF9B2 (2018 LA) plotted across Oceania, the Indian Ocean and Africa.

"Reports of a bright fireball above Botswana, Africa, early Saturday evening match up with the predicted trajectory for the asteroid", explained NASA, in a statement. Videos posted to YouTube reportedly show the fireball streaking across the night sky, including one captured on a South African farm's security camera.

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A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is also known as a meteoroid.

Only twice before has a small asteroid been detected hours before colliding with Earth. The bigger an asteroid is, the farther away it can be detected.

Thankfully, Earth's atmosphere saved our planet from a ground impact, and 2018 LA burned up due to the intense friction of entry.

The object, however, was much smaller than the meteor - estimated to be about 56 feet wide, that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, injuring more than 1,000 people.

And while 2018 LA was discovered shortly before it arrived at our atmosphere, there are numerous organizations searching for potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) that could seriously impact life. Hours later, it struck the atmosphere. Only two other instances come to mind, according to JPL.

Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said it's only the second time the re-entry location was predicted well in advance.

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. Its journey took it from about the distance of the moon to our atmosphere in just a few hours. The previous times were in 2008 and 2014. All three of those events were discovered on the watch of astronomer Richard Kowalski at the Catalina Sky Survey.

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