For 2nd Time Ever, We Saw an Asteroid Before It Hit Us

And that's not the only impressive part
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2014 9:07 AM CST
For 2nd Time Ever, We Saw an Asteroid Before It Hit Us
The Schulman Telescope is seen at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter at the University of Arizona.   (Adam Block/Mt. Lemmon Skycenter)

While working a solo shift on New Year's Eve, an Arizona astronomer spotted a car-sized asteroid en route to Earth. There are a few amazing things about this: 1) It's only the second time ever that an asteroid has been spotted before impact, and 2) The previous one was spotted by the same guy. Astronomer Rich Kowalski is part of the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona, a group "that has found more than half the near-Earth asteroids known to mankind," the head of the lab tells the Arizona Daily Star.

The asteroid, called 2014 AA, almost definitely broke apart in the atmosphere about a day later, reports New Scientist, its pieces falling harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. Kowalski's prior spotting, the similarly-sized 2008 TC3, had a similarly harmless impact over Sudan, where pieces of it have since been found. There's a reason these rocks aren't spotted often—this one was 150,000 times less bright than the faintest star you can see with your naked eye, according to Phil Plait at Slate. But it also points to how important it is to look, lest the next rock be more threatening. "It's yet another reminder that near-Earth space is a busy place," the Sky Survey's director said. (To wit, there's a small chance a big asteroid could hit in 2032.)

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