On June 2, a tiny asteroid penetrated Earth’s atmosphere mere hours after it was first spotted, exploding over Botswana in South Africa. As the Inquisitr reported at the time, the asteroid’s entry in our atmosphere as a meteor fireball was witnessed by a number of people — the American Meteor Society currently lists 27 reports by witnesses who saw or heard the event.
Known as 2018 LA, the asteroid was detected in space only eight hours before it smashed into our atmosphere. Picked up by the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, this is the third asteroid ever to be identified on a collision course with Earth and spotted before impact.
Operated by the University of Arizona, the Catalina Sky Survey scours the skies as part of NASA’s Planetary Defense mission, on the look-out for asteroids that might come close to Earth.
If you think all the commotion about asteroid 2018 LA is over, think again. The 6-foot-wide space rock is back in the spotlight, as researchers announced they have located the very first fragment of the asteroid-turned-meteor that crashed last month in Botswana.
The meteorite fragment was recovered from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, reports Science Daily, crediting the discovery to an international group of scientists from Botswana, Finland, and the United States.
Dubbed “the Botswana meteorite,” the asteroid fragment was found by Lesedi Seitshiro, a geoscientist at Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). After walking the reserve for five days, the geologist eventually stumbled upon the meteorite on June 23, less than a month after asteroid 2018 LA came tumbling down from outer space.
First fragment of recent small asteroid impactor 2018 LA recovered:
— Dr Marco Langbroek (@Marco_Langbroek) July 6, 2018
“This is the third time in history that an asteroid inbound to hit Earth was detected early and only the second time that fragments were recovered,” states the University of Helsinki in Finland, which is now involved in a follow-up search mission to look for more pieces of the fallen asteroid.
“The importance of the find is two-fold: It has enormous scientific value and it allows to better calibrate the so-called ‘Earth Defense’ against impacting asteroids.”
If you’re wondering how did Seitshiro and the other scientists at BIUST, the Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI), and the Okavango Research Institute of the University of Botswana know where to look for the crashed asteroid, Science Daily notes that the landing site was calculated by another research group.
Fragment of impacting #asteroid recovered in Botswana. Third time in history that an asteroid inbound to hit Earth was detected early and only the second time that fragments are recovered! https://t.co/8Wgz3X59PG pic.twitter.com/PsgMwS3OdE
— AlphaGalileo (@alphagalileo) July 6, 2018
Led by the SETI Institute in California expert Peter Jenniskens (who also took part in the meteorite search), as well as Esko Lyytinen and Jarmo Moilanen of the Finnish Fireball Network, the team pinpointed the estimated area where the meteorites could be found after the scattered fragments got blown away by the wind following the asteroid’s explosion.
“The Department of Wildlife and National Parks granted access [to the reserve] and deployed park rangers for protection and participation in the search,” notes the Finnish university.
The meteorite sample, as well as other fragments from asteroid 2018 LA that might turn up in the future, will be preserved at the Botswana National Museum and studied by a group of researchers coordinated by the BGI.