Small asteroid tracked to atmospheric impact and breakup

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Preliminary data suggests that asteroid 2018 LA entered the atmosphere at roughly 15 kilometres/second (or 54,000 km/h) and released energy equivalent to a half-kiloton of TNT.

Asteroid trackers at NASA and elsewhere determined the rock to be about 2 metres wide.

A faint figure was discovered moving across the sky on Saturday by the Catalina Sky Survey, outside of Tucson, Arizona.

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 asteroid, dubbed 2018 LA, was discovered out near the moon's orbit, aiming straight for Earth. The data was transmitted to the minor planet Center at the Smithsonian astrophysical Observatory, where experts calculated the likely trajectory of a celestial body and reported a possible collision with the Earth.

Considering the short time available to scientists using telescopes around the world to track and calculate the impact of asteroid 2018 LA, Brown called the results successful. He adds that the event is also only the second time that a location has been identified with enough time before eventual impact.

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The last predicted impact was asteroid 2014 AA, and it too was discovered only hours before it entered the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean on New Year's Day in 2014, NASA said.

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

The Chelyabinsk event prompted astronomers to become more equipped in tracking asteroid impact risks, according to a report from NASA in February 2018. Traveling at 38,000 miles per hour, the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere at 6:44 p.m. local Botswana time (12:44 p.m. EDT). On Saturday, for only the third time since asteroid record-keeping began, a rock from space was detected by telescope only a short distance away from Earth, was found to have a trajectory that had a high probability of Earth-impact, and was then observed to actually impact with Earth, shortly thereafter. However, the CAS clarified that the larger asteroids reflect more sunlight, so usually the medium and large ones can be detected earlier. The first was 2008 TC3, which was detected 15 hours before it broke up over northern Sudan on October 7, 2008. All of the 3 asteroids were discovered by Richard Kowalski using the same asteroid detector.

On Oct. 7,2008, the 13-foot (4 m) asteroid 2008 TC3 hit Earthover northern Sudan.

The second event occurred January 1, 2014, when the asteroid 2014 AA was spotted just a few hours before it fell over the Atlantic Ocean.