Small asteroid caused surprise fireball over Africa this weekend

Cristina Cross
June 7, 2018

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. It entered Earth's atmosphere at the high speed of 10 miles per second and disintegrated several miles above the surface, creating a fireball that lit up the evening sky, said NASA.

The asteroid was seen astronomical service Catalina Sky Survey Steward Observatory, located near Tucson in Arizona.

Astronomers need long-term data to accurately determine the trajectory of asteroids and, as 2018 LA had just been identified, they didn't have much to go on. In one video, from a farm between Ottosdal and Hartebeesfontein in northwest South Africa, the asteroid appears as a brilliant streak that flares up into a spectacular fireball on the horizon.

And while 2018 LA was discovered shortly before it arrived at our atmosphere, there are numerous organizations searching for potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) that could seriously impact life. NASA dubbed the asteroid 2018 LA and had predicted that it would make its entry in an area somewhere over Southern Africa and across the Indian Ocean to New Guinea.

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Asteroids are small remnants of violent collisions in the solar system's history and formed around 4.5 billion years ago. According to NASA, an automated alert was sent to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office in Washington, however it was quickly determined that the asteroid was harmless.

Also, the scientist says that such examples are illustrative of the work of NASA: "This is a real event allows you to test our capabilities and gives some condence that our models predict collisions suited to respond to the potential impact of larger objects". Soon after they spotted the small asteroid, they calculated its trajectory and saw it would come really close to Earth.

Only twice before has a small asteroid been detected hours before colliding with Earth. However, the asteroid of 2008 was detected nineteen hours before it struck the sky over Sudan. Space.com reported that 2008 TC3 was spotted some 19 hours before impact while 2008 TC3 was discovered just a few hours prior. According to the space agency, the asteroid was flying at an incredible 38,000MPH when it hit the atmosphere. The next has been 2014 AA, found only a couple of hours before it changed within the Atlantic Ocean on January 1, 2014.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/CSS-Univ. of Arizona: Observations of asteroid 2018 LA from the Catalina Sky Survey, taken June 2, 2018.

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