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Small asteroid, first spotted hours earlier, disintegrates over Africa

05 June 2018

About eight hours after these images were taken, the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere (about 12:44 p.m. EDT, 6:44 p.m. local Botswana time), and disintegrated in the upper atmosphere near Botswana, Africa.

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.

NASA discovered an asteroid heading straight to earth but watched it disintegrate before impact.

Generally speaking, NASA has a pretty good idea of which asteroids are hanging out in Earth's neighborhood.

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

"It shows our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to much larger and more threatening objects".

The advantage I had was I saw it in colour.

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All three asteroids were discovered through the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, which is run by the University of Arizona and funded by NASA. The bigger an asteroid is, the farther away it can be detected.

Because astronomers spotted the space rock when it was so close to our planet, they couldn't say exactly where it would impact.

After data was sent from the Catalina telescope to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then onto the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, California, it was determined that there was a high probability the asteroid was travelling on an impact trajectory.

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 signal is consistent with an atmospheric impact over Botswana. Although they started off at the top of the atmosphere travelling at tens of thousands of kilometres per hour, by the time they reached the ground, they would only be moving at around 300-500 km/h - at the most, a quarter of the velocity of a bullet.

There have been only two other times when asteroids were detected so soon before impact. The first was 2008 TC3, which was detected 15 hours before it broke up over northern Sudan on October 7, 2008.

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.

That was a slightly larger asteroid (about 13 feet, or 4 meters in size), and it was discovered a full 19 hours before impact, allowing for a large number of follow-up observations and a very precise trajectory to be calculated.

Small asteroid, first spotted hours earlier, disintegrates over Africa