Cast your mind back to the 7th of October, 2008. Anything special happen that day? Nope, me neither. Well as it happens, that was the day an asteroid became a meteorite and crashed to earth. So what, you say, meteorites hit the Earth all time. Well this one was a little different because astronomers knew it was going to hit us.
The asteroid was called 2008 TC3, a 4 metre near-earth object that was first spotted by SpaceGuard orbiting just past the moon. After some orbit calculations, 2008 TC3 became the first asteroid ever detected in space that was on a certain collision course with Earth. I’ll say that again. The. First. Ever. Until then, no one had ever seen an asteroid that was going to hit Earth before it hit us. Now if that bit of information doesn’t scare you, then nothing will.
As predicted, a mere 20 hours later, 2008 TC3 had entered the atmosphere and exploded harmlessly 37km above the Nubian desert in Sudan. Although the area was very remote the explosion was so bright it resembled a full moon and was witnessed by an aircraft 1,400km away as well as by thousands of people in Northern Sudan who had just finished morning prayers.
That should have been the end of the story if it wasn’t for Peter Jenniskens from the SETI Institute in California. Peter contacted Muawia Shaddad at the University of Khartoum and together they and their students set out to try and recover pieces of the
asteroid meteorite. They had no idea how much, if any of the meteorite had survived the explosion and if pieces had landed they could have fallen anywhere in a huge area, but recover pieces they did, about 4kg in total. The original asteroid was estimated to have been 80 tonnes.
With pieces of the actual meteorite to study astronomers are hoping to get a better understanding of why some asteroids are harder to spot. They can also better theorise what asteroids are made of and how they’ll react when they hit the Earth. A bit more warning probably wouldn’t go astray either.
As serious and cool as this is, I couldn’t get away without posting another pic of people combing the desert.
Last October, astronomers found the first asteroid on a certain collision course with Earth, observing the 4-metre-long rock as it hurtled towards the planet and then exploded in the sky some 37 kilometres above the Nubian Desert in Sudan. At the time it was unclear whether the blast would leave anything but dust behind, but a team of scientists and volunteers has managed to recover fragments of the 80-tonne asteroid, called 2008 TC3.
[Story and photos From New Scientist]