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Small Asteroid Slams Into Earth's Atmosphere Only Hours After Astronomers Spot It

Jun 05, 2018 02:01 AM EDT
An asteroid dubbed the 2018 LA hits Earth's atmosphere, generating a dazzling fireball that lit up Botswana in Africa.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Just hours after scientists spotted it hurtling towards Earth, an asteroid struck the planet's atmosphere and exploded in a bright fireball on Saturday, June 2.

The space rock, dubbed the 2018 LA, offered a stunning lights show over southern Africa.

Near-Earth Asteroid Hits

According to NASA-JPL, the asteroid was discovered to be on a collision course with the planet on early Saturday morning by Catalina Sky Survey astronomers. Although its trajectory put the space rock on a path for impact, it was estimated to be about 6 feet wide and expected to disintegrate upon impact with the Earth's atmosphere.

There were a couple of potential locations for the impact, from southern Africa to New Guinea. Reports of a brilliant fireball lighting up the sky in Botswana on Saturday evening confirmed that the trajectory of 2018 LA took it to Africa.

The asteroid hit Earth at a speed of 10 miles per second at 16:44 UTC or 6:44 p.m. local time in Botswana, disintegrating in the sky in a blazing fireball that caught the attention of locals. A few witnesses even captured the event on video.

Good Practice For Future Collisions

While getting just hours of a heads up may seem alarming to some, astronomers explain that this is actually a good sign.

Paul Chodas of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at JPL points out that 2018 LA is just the third time that an asteroid has been identified to be on a trajectory for impact. He adds that the event is also only the second time that a location has been identified with enough time before eventual impact.

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

Dangers Of Near-Earth Events, Impacts

National Geographic previously reported that scientists have calculated the odds of dying from an asteroid, meteorite, or comet impact and they found that the probabilities are incredibly low.

However, it's not out of the realm of possibility either. The Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013 is proof of this, shattering windows and injuring more than 1,600 people.

The Chelyabinsk event prompted astronomers to become more equipped in tracking asteroid impact risks, according to a report from NASA in February 2018.

"Thanks to upgraded telescopes coming online in recent years, the rate of asteroid discovery has increased considerably," Kelly Fast, manager of NASA's NEO Observations Program, says. "Over 8,000 of these larger asteroids are now being tracked. However, there are over twice that number still out there to be found."

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