People in South Africa got quite the light show on Saturday night as an asteroid, discovered just hours before, entered Earth’s atmosphere in lit up the night sky in a spectacular display.
Here’s more on the story from EarthSky.org:
The International Astronomical Union has now confirmed that a small asteroid – discovered Saturday morning, June 2, 2018 – entered Earth’s atmosphere later that day. The asteroid was originally designated ZLAF9B2 and is now officially called 2018 LA. It surprised astronomers shortly after its discovery, when its trajectory suggested it would pass very, very close to Earth just hours later. The IAU confirmed:
The object reached 50-km [30-mile] height above the Earth’s surface around 16:51 UTC over southern Africa.
The asteroid was first detected by the telescope at Mt Lemmon in Arizona and was dubbed asteroid ZLAF9B2. Alex Gibbs, the principal engineer at the Catalina Sky Survey posted an image of the asteroid to his Facebook page.
Discovery images of the very tiny asteroid ZLAF9B2, which may or may not make it into the news. Taken last night by…
After it’s discovery, the race was on to try and guess where it would enter our atmosphere, and what kind of impact it would have.
Again from EarthSky.org:
According to NASA/JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), asteroid ZLAF9B2 approached Earth at 27,738 miles per hour (44,640 km per hour).
Models began suggesting that – in case of impact – the asteroid would enter Earth’s atmosphere somewhere between Indonesia, the Indian Ocean, or South Africa.
The reported observation of the color yellow in the sighted meteor is of interest because colors in a meteor provide a hint of its composition. Yellow suggest the rock contains sodium, as was also in the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor.
Small asteroids are difficult to detect. Some space rocks might be dark, and may only reflect a small amount of sunlight as they may already be somewhat close to our planet.
However, as bigger asteroids reflect more light, they are usually detected weeks or months before closest approach.
Here’s video of the meteorite lighting up the sky and exploding in a giant flash: