NASA Says We Had a Scary Brush With an Asteroid This Weekend
In sci-fi movies, when a space object is hurtling towards Earth it's a really big deal. There are countdown clocks, scientists running around throwing papers in the air, and some heroic mission to save the day.
This weekend, NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and the IAU Minor Planet Center confirmed that an asteroid (named 2018 LA) was headed our way just hours before it struck the atmosphere above Botswana.
So why didn't you hear about it until now?
"A boulder-sized asteroid designated 2018 LA was discovered Saturday morning, June 2, and was determined to be on a collision course with Earth, with impact just hours away," NASA said in a statement.
"Because it was very faint, the asteroid was estimated to be only about 6 feet (2 meters) across, which is small enough that it was expected to safely disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere."
The space agency outlined its process for sharing this kind of news, from detection to multiple levels of analysis and verification, and finally to sending automated alerts to a network of asteroid watchers.
"This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about," said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson.
"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."
You may be surprised to learn that, according to CNEOS manager Paul Chodas, this is only the third time that an asteroid with an Earth trajectory has been discovered.
The first in 2008 was detected 19 hours ahead of impact, and the second was detected a few hours ahead in 2014.
When 2018 LA reached Earth, it was traveling very fast at around 10 miles per second (38,000MPH) and disintegrated in the atmosphere on impact.
Those three were obviously not major threats, but hopefully, detection methods continue to improve so if a space object the size of Sokovia is heading our way, we have some time to prepare.