Pint-sized asteroid spotted just hours before slamming into Earth’s atmosphere

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

Asteroid 2018 LA was first discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey operated by the University of Arizona, the agency said.

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.

The rock, which is thought to have measured just around six feet in length, was too small to appear on sky surveys and the fact that it "snuck up" on NASA is totally understandable for an object of this size.

"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", Johnson pointed out.

Discovery photographs captured with the Catalina Sky Survey show asteroid 2018 LA about eight hours before it slammed into Earth's atmosphere and broke up.

This weekend, NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and the IAU Minor Planet Center confirmed that an asteroid (named 2018 LA) was headed our way just hours before it struck the atmosphere above Botswana.

The space rock disintegrated several miles above the Earth's surface.

When it was spotted, astronomers realized there was a possibility of an Earth impact.

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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.

"In general, I'd say the system worked pretty well".

The object, however, was much smaller than the meteor - estimated to be about 56 feet wide, that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, injuring more than 1,000 people.

Designated 2018 LA, the asteroid was small enough that it was expected to safely disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere. However, the asteroid was determined to be very small and therefore harmless. 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 is also only the second time that the high probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself", said Chodas.

The first event of this kind was the impact of asteroid 2008 TC3, which lit up the predawn sky above Northern Sudan on October 7, 2008.

Smaller objects are fainter and more hard to spot in a large sky, though efforts like the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey are increasingly able to search a wider field of sky to find these somewhat elusive objects. The second was 2014 AA, discovered only a few hours before it impacted over the Atlantic Ocean on January 1, 2014.

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