Asteroid discovered just before it impacted earth's atmosphere

Over the weekend, Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey spotted a near-earth asteroid just a few hours before its impact trajectory took it right into our atmosphere. Luckily, it burned up before impact.

Via Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this is only "the third time that an asteroid has been discovered to be on an impact trajectory":

When it was first detected, the asteroid was nearly as far away as the Moon's orbit, although that was not initially known. The asteroid appeared as a streak in the series of time-exposure images taken by the Catalina telescope . As is the case for all asteroid-hunting projects, the data were quickly sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which calculated a preliminary trajectory indicating the possibility of an Earth impact. The data were in turn sent to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the automated Scout system also found a high probability that the asteroid was on an impact trajectory. Automated alerts were sent out to the community of asteroid observers to obtain further observations, and to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington. However, since the asteroid was determined to be so small and therefore harmless, no further impact alerts were issued by NASA.

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

Tiny Asteroid Discovered Saturday Disintegrates Hours Later Over Southern Africa (JPL)

Meteor ZLAF9B2 seen from between Ottosdal and Hartebeesfontein North West South Africa (YouTube / barend swanepoel)

Illustration: NASA