Last June 2, a small asteroid fell to Earth and lit up the sky over Botswana. Now, part of that asteroid has been recovered.
The asteroid, now dubbed as 2018 LA, broke into a few pieces after it had hurtled through space and smacked right into the planet’s atmosphere, where it displayed as a “shooting star” through the dark sky. It had been discovered in space by the Catalina Sky Survey of the University of Arizona some eight hours before it crashed toward Earth.
It then exploded and turned into what’s called a “fireball” meteor, leaving a flash of light as it ran across the sky before skywatchers and the prying eyes of security cameras.
Recovering Another Meteorite
Recently, an international team of researchers from the United States, Finland, and South Africa recovered a piece of the asteroid at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve of Botswana. It was the second fragment found following the first piece found five days after the sky display.
“The biggest uncertainty we faced was to determine where exactly the meteorites fell,” said Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in California who traveled to Botswana to help in the search.
Fragments of the asteroid were scattered over a wide area and were blown by the wind, according to calculations made by Jenniskens’s NASA-sponsored group and the Finnish Fireball Network.
It has only been the second time in history that a small asteroid already observed in space was recovered after it had hit Earth.
The Catalina Sky Survey determined that the asteroid was around 6 feet across in size. Lindley Johnson, NASA planetary defense officer, noted that it was a much smaller object than they were assigned to detect and warn about.
The incident, however, allowed scientists to test current capabilities and see if impact prediction models are enough in response to much larger impacts. The meteorites recovered are protected under Botswana law, so they will be taken to the national museum to be analyzed.
NASA also just revealed its plans to predict whether a near-Earth object is turning out to be a threat and how it will protect the planet against asteroid crashes.
In an 18-page document, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy outlined a plan from NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the next decade to protect Earth from those crashes. The plan is made up of five goals, beginning with enhanced asteroid detection and tracking capabilities.