It was only hours from impacting Earth when a boulder-sized asteroid was detected by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey on Saturday morning. NASA said in a press release that the agency estimates the asteroid was about six feet across. (Or, in honor of the Finals, about one foot smaller than the wingspan of LeBron James.) That's small enough that the asteroid would disintegrate in the atmosphere instead of reaching the Earth's surface.
There wasn't much time to pinpoint where the asteroid would land, but a lengthy potential trajectory was put together that stretched from South Africa to New Guinea. It ultimately became a fireball over Botswana, which was on the projected path. The asteroid, moving 10 miles per second before disintegrating miles above the Earth's surface, was seen by many observers and even caught on a webcam, as seen above.
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Though the asteroid was small enough that it wasn't a threat to the surface, its detection set off a string of alerts that ended at NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office in Washington DC. "This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about," Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. "However, this real-world event allows us to exercise our capabilities and gives some confidence our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to the potential impact of a larger object."
Finding asteroids on a collision course with Earth in advance of their arrival isn't very common. "The discovery of asteroid 2018 LA is only the third time that an asteroid has been discovered to be on an impact trajectory," Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a statement. "It is also only the second time that the impact location was predicted well ahead of the event itself."
Weirdly, all three instances were detected by from the Catalina Sky Survey and under the eye of Richard Kowalski. If he puts out a jazz album it'll be safe to assume he's the real-life Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day.
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