Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Tiny, Earth-bound asteroid disintegrates over Africa

NASA news Asteroid speeding through space GETTY STOCK IMAGENASA asteroid The rogue space rock disintegrated in the atmosphere over Botswana
Sandy Nunez | 05 June, 2018, 23:56

NASA dubbed the asteroid 2018 LA and had predicted that it would make its entry in an area somewhere over Southern Africa and across the Indian Ocean to New Guinea.

"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", said Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters.

The International Astronomical Union confirmed the rock entered the Earth's atmosphere on June 2 and was named Asteroid 2018 LA and was estimated at between 10 to 16 feet wide.

As is the case for all asteroid-hunting projects, the data were quickly sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which calculated a preliminary trajectory indicating the possibility of an Earth impact.

Fortunately, NASA didn't have to rely on Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck to blow up this asteroid before it entered the earth's atmosphere, but it still looked arguably more risky than Dottie, the Texas-sized asteroid in Armageddon.

Astronomers need long-term data to accurately determine the trajectory of asteroids and, as 2018 LA had just been identified, they didn't have much to go on. The asteroid hit Earth 8 hours after these images were taken, burning up in Earth's upper atmosphere over Botswana, Africa.

But its extreme speed travelling at over 37 times the speed of sound meant that it was literally just two seconds from hitting South Africa when it vapourised.

Additional analysis showed the asteroid posed no threat to Earth and no additional alerts were issued.

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"The discovery of asteroid 2018 LA is only the third time that an asteroid has been discovered to be on an impact trajectory", said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), in a statement.

Objects this small "are quite faint and hard to detect until they are very close, which is why we did not see it sooner", he said.

Only twice before has a small asteroid been detected hours before colliding with Earth.

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. "It is also only the second time that the high probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself".

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.

And each time, the object was spotted by Richard Kowalski of the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson.

The second event occurred January 1, 2014, when the asteroid 2014 AA was spotted just a few hours before it fell over the Atlantic Ocean.