Asteroid hits Earth hours after Nasa 'Planetary Defence' shield saw it

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

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

Scientists were able to observe 2018 LA a few hours prior to impact using the ATLAS asteroid survey, an asteroid impact early warning system developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA.

Artist's concept of a near-earth asteroid.

But smaller asteroids which could wipe out a city might only be detected hours or days before they smash into our planet. Tracking systems narrowed it down to southern Africa.

Video posted on YouTube, from a farm just across the border in South Africa, showed a fireball swiftly descending and getting bigger, and then a blinding flash in the sky.

The asteroid, dubbed 2018 LA, popped up on NASA's radars at the Catalina Sky Survey, sending astronomers into disarray. "It is also only the second time that the impact location was predicted well ahead of the event itself".

And while 2018 LA was discovered shortly before it arrived at our atmosphere, there are numerous organizations searching for potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) that could seriously impact life.

And second, these small asteroids are often identified only after they enter our atmosphere, picked up by the International Monitoring System, part of an organization created to monitor infrasound - or low-frequency sound waves - in the atmosphere. The smaller an asteroid is, the less light it reflects, and thus the dimmer it appears.

When the asteroid was first detected the rock was zooming through space almost as far away as the moon's orbit.

Fortunately, even though it is harder to find asteroids this small, ones of this size are also too small to cause any noticeable damage to anything or anyone on the ground.

Astronomers can easily track massive space rocks big enough to cause the extinction of humanity.

It was much smaller than the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, which was an estimated 60 feet wide.

While there is a good chance of finding meteorites on the ground from the impact of 2018 LA, any fragments of the asteroid that made it to the surface would have been slowed considerably by their interaction with the atmosphere. The asteroid hit Earth 8 hours after these images were taken, burning up in Earth's upper atmosphere over Botswana, Africa.

Paul Chodas, CNEOS manager, said asteroid 2018 LA's arrival marks the third incident of an asteroid heading straight for the planet.

There have been only two other times when asteroids were detected so soon before impact. Luckily, 2014 AA struck over the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away from the nearest landmass, Sky & Telescope reported at the time.

In 2008, 13-foot asteroid 2008 TC3 disintegrated over the skies of northern Sudan approximately 19 hours after discovery.

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