Small asteroid, first spotted hours earlier, disintegrates over Africa

Small asteroid first spotted hours earlier disintegrates over Africa Small asteroid

Small asteroid first spotted hours earlier disintegrates over Africa Small asteroid

Saturday's asteroid was first discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, located near Tucson, Arizona. After determining that 2018 LA was on a collision course with the planet, researchers predicted several locations were it might land before concluding that southern Africa would be where it would most likely land.

The last predicted impact was asteroid 2014 AA, and it too was discovered only hours before it entered the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean on New Year's Day in 2014, NASA said.

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

These are the discovery observations of asteroid 2018 LA from the Catalina Sky Survey, taken June 2, 2018.

Astronomers know of thousands of asteroids whizzing around in space, some of which are known to cross Earth's orbit from time to time.

Scientists determined the asteroid was headed directly for Earth, but because it measured just 6 feet across, scientists knew it would quickly disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere.

A video posted on YouTube by Melissa Delport shows the asteroid burning up in the evening sky over Botswana, eight hours after first being noticed.

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.

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.

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

Generally speaking, NASA has a pretty good idea of which asteroids are hanging out in Earth's neighborhood. The smaller an asteroid is, the less light it reflects, and thus the dimmer it appears.

While there is a good chance of finding meteorites on the ground from the impact of 2018 LA, any fragments of the asteroid that made it to the surface would have been slowed considerably by their interaction with the atmosphere. The first was 2008 TC3, which was detected 15 hours before it broke up over northern Sudan on October 7, 2008.

In 2008, an asteroid measuring 4 metres was spotted 19 hours in advance.

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.

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.

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