First Asteroid Of 2014 Hits Earth But Probably Burned Up Over Atlantic Ocean
While you were nursing a New Year's Day mimosa, the first asteroid of 2014 entered earth's atmosphere. But fear not: the car-sized asteroid was "unlikely to have survived atmospheric entry intact," probably burning up over the Atlantic Ocean sometime between 2:00 PM on January 1 and 9:00 AM on January 2. Asteroid 2014 AA it the first asteroid named this year.
The seven- to ten-foot space rock most likely burned up off the coast of West Africa, according to three projections by the Minor Planet Center, Steve Chesley of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program and the independent orbit analyst Bill Gray, who all agreed that asteroid 2014 AA did in fact hit earth's atmosphere. But because of the asteroid's small size, which NASA compared to asteroid 2008 TC3, it probably broke up before hitting land or sea.
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The asteroid was spotted by the Mt. Lemmon Survey telescope near Tuscon, Ariz. (For his part, poor Bill Gray said he was "kicking [himself] for not having spotted this," due to New Year's plans that kept him away from his computer. Better luck with the next asteroid, Bill.) The 2014 AA asteroid is only the second asteroid to have ever been spotted before it hit earth; the first was the aforementioned asteroid 2008 TC3.
Asteroids are usually very small, making them hard to detect. They're also difficult to see because they are not very bright: asteroid 2014 AA was magnitude 19. The faintest star we can see with our eyes is 150,000 times brighter than that.
But even though asteroids are small, they can cause damage if they don't burn up upon entering earth's atmosphere. Any object that hurtles towards you at 42,500 miles per hour--as last year's Chelyabinsk Meteor did--is going to leave a raised welt at the very least. The 60-foot Chelyabinsk Meteor injured more than a thousand people. An impact like Chelyabinsk's is excessively rare, though.
"This was the first time in modern, medieval or ancient history when a meteorite fell in an area with a high density population," said Viktor Grokhovsky a researcher who works about 120 miles north of Chelyabinsk. "This type of meteorite is rare and a lot of material fell."
NASA is currently developing the Near-Earth Object Camera, or NEOCam, in order to assess the risk of near-earth objects, study the origin of asteroids and, most tantalizingly, "to find the most suitable NEO targets for future exploration by robots and humans." Other ambitious plans for dealing with and exploring asteroids include nuking them and lassoing and pulling them towards earth in order to study them.
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