A Tiny Asteroid Just Hit Earth, Sparking Fireball Over South Africa

An astroid in the sky over Botswana

An astroid in the sky over Botswana

Luckily for us earthlings, scientists think asteroid 2018 LA only stretched about 6 feet in width, small enough to safely disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere.

An asteroid turned into a blazing fireball as it disintegrated over southern Africa last weekend, just hours after it was first spotted. Traveling at 38,000 miles per hour, the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere at 6:44 p.m. local Botswana time (12:44 p.m. EDT). When it reached Earth, the asteroid was traveling incredibly fast, at 10 miles per second.

It was first spotted by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona.

These smaller events often hit remote areas or don't cause any damage.

Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said it's only the second time the re-entry location was predicted well in advance.

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

The asteroid's fiery demise was caught on camera by spectators, who later posted their footage to YouTube.

The asteroid, dubbed 2018 LA, was discovered out near the moon's orbit early Saturday morning, aiming straight for Earth. The asteroid hit Earth 8 hours after these images were taken, burning up in Earth's upper atmosphere over Botswana, Africa.

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Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters explained: "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'.

Discovery observations of asteroid 2018 LA taken from the Catalina Sky Survey early Saturday are shown. That trajectory plot was the first hint that 2018 LA could hit Earth.

According to NASA, however, about 90 per cent of all asteroids larger than one kilometre have been discovered. The 2014 asteroid was discovered just a few hours before entering over the Atlantic, with little time for tracking. Only two other instances come to mind, according to JPL. The first was 2008 TC3, which was detected 15 hours before it broke up over northern Sudan on October 7, 2008.

When the asteroid was first detected the rock was zooming through space almost as far away as the moon's orbit. The blazing fireball sent meteorite hunters scrambling to find fragments of the rare space rock. The second predicted impact event was for asteroid 2014 AA, which was discovered only a few hours before impact on January 1, 2014, in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving too little time for follow-up observations.

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

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

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