Asteroid on Collision Course with Earth Breaks Into Pieces Before Impact

Artist's concept of a near Earth object. Image credit

About eight hours after these images were taken, the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphereand disintegrated in the upper atmosphere near Botswana, Africa.

After scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey spotted the asteroid, they relayed their observations to scientists at the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Because it was very faint, the asteroid was estimated to be only about 6 feet (2 meters) across, which is small enough that it was expected to safely disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere".

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.

The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter contains hundreds of thousands of asteroids more than half a mile in size or more, with millions of smaller objects tumbling in space.

"This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about", said Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defence Officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Infrasound data collected just after the impact clearly detected the event from one of the listening stations deployed as part of the International Monitoring System of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

He said: 'The advantage I had was I saw it in colour and it was not like on the cameras.

"A boulder-sized asteroid designated 2018 LA was discovered Saturday morning, June 2, and was determined to be on a collision course with Earth, with impact just hours away", NASA said in a statement.

An asteroid four times as big exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 in an airburst blowing out windows and injuring over 1,500 people with cuts caused by flying glass and debris. The asteroid hit Earth's atmosphere over the southern African nation of Botswana at 12:44 p.m. EDT (1644 GMT) while hurtling down at a whopping 38,000 miles per hour (61,155 km/h).

It's happened three times, the most recent coming over the weekend. Expert Geoff Notkin tells us how!

"The discovery of asteroid 2018 LA is only the third time that an asteroid has been discovered to be on an impact trajectory", said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), in a statement. 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.

On Oct. 7,2008, the 13-foot (4 m) asteroid 2008 TC3 hit Earthover northern Sudan. 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.

And each time, the object was spotted by Richard Kowalski of the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson.

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