Artwork depicting an asteroid with a moon passing Earth. 31232 Florence passed much farther than depicted here… but it has two moons! Credit: NASA
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Artwork depicting an asteroid with a moon passing Earth. 31232 Florence passed much farther than depicted here… but it has two moons! Credit: NASA

Watch a boulder-sized asteroid catapult across the night sky above South Africa 

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Jun 4, 2018

Fortunately, NASA didn’t have to rely on Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck to blow up this asteroid before it entered the earth’s atmosphere, but it still looked arguably more dangerous than Dottie, the Texas-sized asteroid in Armageddon

Alas, when it comes to identified flying objects, apparently looks can be deceiving, because thankfully the boulder-sized asteroid lighting up the night sky below didn’t even come close to creating an Extinction Level Event (yes, that’s more of a Deep Impact reference):

The video above comes to us from Barend Swanepoel (via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), who pulled the footage from a webcam situated near his father’s farm in rural South Africa, west of Johannesburg. Witnesses in the area also reported the “fireball streaking across the sky” on Saturday night, according to the Washington Post

The asteroid, dubbed 2018 LA, was discovered hours before entry into our atmosphere. Observers at NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, operating out of Tuscon, Arizona, discovered 2018 LA, and estimated it at about 6-feet across, or “boulder-sized,” and that it would safely disintegrate into the Earth’s atmosphere.  

Astronomers were limited by tracking data, but predicted the asteroid's trajectory would see it enter the atmosphere between South Africa and New Guinea. After data was sent from the Catalina telescope to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then onto the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, California, it was determined that there was a high probability the asteroid was travelling on an impact trajectory. An automatic warning was issued to a community of asteroid observers, and to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA HQ in Washington, D.C. But since the asteroid was determined to be harmless, no further warnings went out. 

According to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2018 LA was travelling at 10 miles per second upon entry, or 38,000 miles per hour.

While the thought of a 6-foot-wide rock hurling towards us at 38,000 miles per hour might seem like a good reason to be alarmed, NASA views the discovery differently. "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."

This is only the third time that an asteroid with an impact trajectory has been discovered, and only the second time that such a “high level of probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself,” according to Paul Chodas, manager for CNEOS. 

See, isn’t that reassuring? Although it might be nice to have Willis and Affleck on standby just in case.

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