Asteroid Prediction

October 8, 2008

Astronomers call it: There will be an asteroid hit tonight

Tell your family in Sudan not to be scared

Astronomers are calling their first ever asteroid impact — a really small and insignificant one — for Monday night in Sudan. The 6.5-foot-wide rock, designated 8TA9D69 by its discoverers at the University of Arizona Mount Lemmon Survey, will break up in the atmosphere over Sudan.

The asteroid will enter Earth’s atmosphere at about 10:46 p.m. ET (2:46 a.m. GMT). There is no danger to people or property since the asteroid will not reach the ground. It will burn up in the upper atmosphere, well above where airplanes travel. People in eastern Africa will be able to see a brilliant fireball.

“This is the first time an asteroid impact has been predicted,” and shows astronomers are improving their asteroid observationcapabilities, says NASA’s David Morrison, in a asteroid newsletter.

The atmospheric impact will equal about a 1 kiloton explosion, causing no damage on the ground, according to Italian astronomer Andrea Milani of the University of Pisa.

“We want to stress that this object is not a threat,” said Dr. Timothy Spahr, director of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

“We’re excited since this is the first time we have issued a prediction that an object will enter Earth’s atmosphere,” Spahr added. There are between 99.8 and 100% odds the object will encounter Earth, according to Milani’s calculations.

A small asteroid like this compresses the air in front of it when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The compression heats the air, which then fires up the object, causing it to glow and vaporize. Once it starts to glow, we call it a meteor.

“A typical meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand,” said Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Center. “This meteor will be a real humdinger in comparison!”

“We’re eager for observations from astronomers near the asteroid’s approach path. We really hope that someone will manage to photograph it,” said Williams.

By Dan Vergano and Jess Zielinski
Photo: This artist’s concept showed a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star the same age and size as our sun. The asteroid heading for the Sudan is significantly smaller, so call off Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. By T. Pyle, NASA/JPL Caltech

M A R K R. T O W S L E Y
Phoenix, Arizona

October 9, 2008

An asteroid entered the atmosphere over Sudan Tuesday morning, October 9, producing a brilliant light show as it burned up. Small portions may have hit earth, spectators surmised, but posed no threat to people. The asteroid, scientists said, would have measured between 6 and 15 feet in diameter. The object was first spotted Monday morning by the Catalina Sky Survey telescope near Tucson, Arizona.

According to scientists, the most important aspect of the sighting was the prediction of its path.

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