Tiny Asteroid disintegrated Hours after its Discovery over Southern Africa

Tiny Asteroid disintegrated Hours after its Discovery over Southern Africa

An asteroid called 2018 LA, discovered near Moon’s orbit, was on route to clash with Earth but his flight was cut short by the atmosphere of Earth.

Asteroid strikes are always given a lot of importance by the scientific community as they have caused severe destruction in the past including the extinction of Dinosaurs. That is the reason why any appearance of an asteroid always gets quite a lot of limelight. A similar incident happened on the evening of 1st June when a boulder-sized asteroid was discovered, which was on-track to collide with Earth. The faintness of the asteroid indicated that it is very small in size and scientists predicted that it will be about 2 meters across. The hostility of the Earth’s atmosphere is capable to disintegrate such an asteroid with ease. This is exactly what happened as it burned up in the sky over Botswana, 8 hours after its first observation.

The fact that the impact was only a few hours away proved that our planet is still in the Cosmic Shooting Gallery and we could experience an asteroid strike on a little-to-no notice. It was only the 3rd instance when an incoming asteroid was spotted by the scientists. Previously, it happened in 2008 and 2014. Catalina Sky Survey, a project funded by NASA, discovered the asteroid in the first place. It is located near Tucson and the University of Arizona is responsible for operating it. The tracking data was not sufficient to make precise predictions but a group of possible locations was formed which stretched from Southern Africa to New Guinea.

A bright ball of fire was seen above Botswana and coordinates matched with the predicted trajectory of the asteroid. It entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 17 kilometers per second. The eye-witnesses posted a video on YouTube which showed that it got bigger and bigger as it descended rapidly. According to NASA, it exploded several miles above the surface and lit up the sky.

The location of the asteroid was unknown at the time it was first detected. However, later observations revealed that it was somewhere near the orbit of the Moon. A series of Time-exposure images were taken by Catalina Telescope in which the asteroid could be seen as a Streak. All the data gathered through this telescope was immediately sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge. The scientists at this center calculated an estimated path of this asteroid which indicated that we could experience an Earth impact.

In order to become certain about its trajectory, the data was then sent to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). An Automated Scout System also supported the claim that this asteroid was coming straight towards our planet. Despite all these reports, NASA didn’t issue any impact alerts because the size of the asteroid was pretty small. Lindley Johnson, a Planetary Defense Officer at NASA headquarters acknowledged that as she said,

This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about. 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.”

Just a few hours before impact, two additional observations were made by the ATLAS asteroid survey and the data was fed to the Scout System. It confirmed that the impact would occur in Southern Africa. The infrared signals from one of the listening stations deployed as a part of the International Monitoring System also verified that the asteroid had an atmospheric impact over Botswana. Paul Chodas, the Manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, described this event in the following words:

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

If you are wondering why it is only the second time, the asteroid ‘AA’ was detected only a few hours before the impact in 2014.

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Muneeb ud Deen
A sports fanatic who loves to read.
"Honesty and self-satisfaction have been my weapons throughout my writing career of 3 years."

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