A very small asteroid on a collision course with Earth crashed into our planet’s atmosphere on June 2, disintegrating over South Africa.
According to NASA, the space rock was estimated to be just 6 feet (2 meters) wide and broke apart several miles above the planet’s surface, in the upper atmosphere near Botswana.
Hurtling toward us at the dizzying speed of 10 miles per second (38,000 mph, or 17 kilometers per second), the asteroid penetrated Earth’s atmosphere at about 16:44 UTC (9:44 a.m. PDT, 12:44 p.m. EDT, 6:44 p.m. local Botswana time), turning into a bright ball of fire that lit up the African sky.
NASA revealed that the boulder-sized asteroid was first detected a mere eight hours before impact by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. Temporarily dubbed ZLAF9B2, the 6-foot-wide asteroid was renamed 2018 LA by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
The asteroid-turned-meteor was seen streaking down across the African sky by a number of people, who witnessed 2018 LA approach Earth in a ball of fire from eight different cities, show records from the American Meteor Society.
The video below, posted on YouTube by Barend Swanepoel, shows footage of the asteroid coming down between Ottosdal and Hartebeesfontein in South Africa.
The tiny space rock, roughly six feet long, entered Earth’s atmosphere at the high speed of 38,000 mph. https://t.co/85qHlz6gi5— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) June 4, 2018
At the time of its discovery, 2018 LA was almost as close to Earth as the orbit of the moon, “although that was not initially known,” stated NASA officials. The initial observations by the Catalina telescope allowed the space agency to calculate a number of possible impact locations stretching from Southern Africa to the Indian Ocean and New Guinea.
Additional observations by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) located in Hawaii, which tracked down 2018 LA a few hours before it slammed into our atmosphere, confirmed that the asteroid was on a collision trajectory and narrowed down the place of impact to southern Africa.
“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 (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“It is also only the second time that the high probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself,” said Chodas.
A small space rock impacted over Southern Africa Saturday night, hours after being spotted by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey. Its course was plotted, but at just ~2 meters in size it did not pose a risk and later disintegrated in a bright fireball. https://t.co/NJYCLKUNHM pic.twitter.com/qxpCSl0u9j— Asteroid Watch (@AsteroidWatch) June 3, 2018
Because “the asteroid was determined to be so small and therefore harmless,” NASA notes that there was no cause to issue further impact alerts than those already sent to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office in Washington and the community of asteroid observers.
“This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about,” notes Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“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.