Small asteroid disintegrates over Southern Africa

By Brooks Hays
Small asteroid disintegrates over Southern Africa
Scientists first discovered asteroid 2018 LA using observations collected by the Catalina Sky Survey. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech

June 4 (UPI) -- The small, Earth-bound asteroid discovered this weekend is no longer a threat. According to NASA, the rock disintegrated over Southern Africa.

The space rock, dubbed 2018 LA, was first identified by scientists with the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, organized by the University of Arizona, on Saturday morning.


Scientists determined the asteroid was headed directly for Earth, but because it measured just 6 feet across, scientists knew it would quickly disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere.

The rock entered Earth's atmosphere at a speed of approximately 38,000 miles per hour. Multiple observers in Botswana, a landlocked country located in Southern Africa, reported seeing a bright fireball on Sunday afternoon.

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After scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey spotted the asteroid, they relayed their observations to scientists at the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Researchers there quickly determined its trajectory put the rock on a probable collision course with Earth.

The information was shared with other asteroid-tracking groups, but no alerts were issued to the general public.

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

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Though the asteroid never posed any serious risk, the approach and collision did allow scientists to test their asteroid tracking technologies.

Scientists were able to observe 2018 LA a few hours prior to impact using the ATLAS asteroid survey, an asteroid impact early warning system developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA. Researchers were also able to narrow the projected impact location using the automated Scout system at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"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 the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at JPL. "It is also only the second time that the high probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself."

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