Tiny, Earth-bound asteroid disintegrates over Africa

You may be surprised to learn that, according to CNEOS manager Paul Chodas, this is only the third time that an asteroid with an Earth trajectory has been discovered.

'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'.

NASA had only discovered the asteroid on Saturday and determined it was on a collision course for the planet, charted for entry in a vast expanse from Southern Africa and across the Indian Ocean to New Guinea and given the name 2018 LA.

While this isn't the first time a small asteroid has been spotted just before it hit Earth, it certainly isn't that common. NASA says the rock "disintegrated several miles above the surface" over Botswana, Africa, and it created a fireball that lit up the night sky.

Asteroid trackers at NASA quickly determined the rock - which was about 6 feet across - was too small to pose any danger. Assigned a temporary name of "ZLAF9B2" while it was evaluated, the astronomers passed on their observations to colleagues at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' Minor Planet Center, and the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Just over 13 hours after it was detected, a bright "bolide" fireball was spotted at the end of that line, over the border between Botswana and South Africa.

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On Saturday morning, the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, caught a glimpse of an asteroid racing toward Earth.

At the time of its discovery, 2018 LA was nearly as close to Earth as the orbit of the moon, "although that was not initially known", stated NASA officials.

According to the Sky & Telescope, the meteoroid grew into a spectacular fireball while travelling at a speed of 17 kilometres per second.

A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is also known as a meteoroid.

An asteroid four times as big exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 in an airburst blowing out windows injuring more than 1,500 people mainly due to cuts caused by flying glass and debris. "It is also only the second time that the impact location was predicted well ahead of the event itself". Post-impact assessments supports the evidence the asteroid struck the skies above Botswana, NASA reported. All three of those events were discovered on the watch of astronomer Richard Kowalski at the Catalina Sky Survey.

Additional observations by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) located in Hawaii, which tracked down 2018 LA a few hours before it slammed into our atmosphere, confirmed that the asteroid was on a collision trajectory and narrowed down the place of impact to southern Africa. Later expeditions used that trajectory to find meteorite fragments of 2008 TC3.

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