The International Astronomical Union has now confirmed that a small asteroid – discovered on Saturday morning, June 2, 2018 – entered Earth’s atmosphere later that day.
The object was originally given the temporary designation of ZLAF9B2 but has now been renamed as asteroid 2018 LA by the IAU. It surprised astronomers shortly after its discovery, when its trajectory suggested it would pass very, very close to Earth just hours later. The IAU said:
The object reached 50-km [30-mile] height above the Earth’s surface around 16:51 UTC over southern Africa.
There are reports of sightings of a bright meteor, as well as a video that may be related to the event, from Barend Swanepoel in South Africa. He reports the video as being:
A fireball caught on a security camera on a farm outside Ottosdal in South Africa on June 2, 2018! pic.twitter.com/jPeWiti6sO
— Rocket Ron 🚀 (@RonBaalke) June 3, 2018
… taken near my dad’s farm between Ottosdal and Hartbeesfontein.
A very bright fireball exploded over northern South Africa around 16:49 UTC (18:49 local time) Saturday, June 2, 2018.
Another witness in South Africa described the meteor as very bright and showing a yellow color.
This space rock had an estimated size of only 10-16 feet (3 to 5 meters) in diameter. If it struck (and sometimes they do, and meteorite pieces are found), it was too small to cause serious damages. In contrast, the impressive meteor seen over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013 was an estimated 60 feet wide (20 meters). It broke windows in six Russian cities and caused more than 1,500 people to seek medical attention, mostly due to injuries from flying glass. The June 2 asteroid wasn’t big enough to do anything like that, but it was big enough to produce a spectacular, very bright meteor.
The 60-inch (1.5-meter) telescope at Mt. Lemmon, which is part of the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, was the first to detect asteroid ZLAF9B2 on Saturday morning, according to clocks in North America. Alex Gibbs – principal engineer at the Catalina Sky Survey – posted these images of the object on his Facebook page:
According to NASA/JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), asteroid ZLAF9B2 approached Earth at 27,738 miles per hour (44,640 km per hour).
Models began suggesting that – in case of impact – the asteroid would enter Earth’s atmosphere somewhere between Indonesia, the Indian Ocean, or South Africa.
— Asteroid Initiatives (@AsteroidEnergy) June 2, 2018
The reported observation of the color yellow in the sighted meteor is of interest because colors in a meteor provide a hint of its composition. Yellow suggest the rock contains sodium, as was also in the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor.
Small asteroids are difficult to detect. Some space rocks might be dark and may only reflect a small amount of sunlight as they may already be somewhat close to our planet.
However, as bigger asteroids reflect more light, they are usually detected weeks or months before closest approach.
Confirmation of the event is continuing to trickle in:
Mary Greeley News