Scientists Track an Asteroid That Landed on Earth 22 Million Years Ago

Our solar system has been around for an immense amount of time. Today, scientists are using technology to find out about activities in our galaxies that occurred millions and even billions of years ago. New information has been gleaned as researchers are currently mapping the flight path of an asteroid that has been journeying to earth for 22 million years.

The asteroid, named 2018LA, first appeared over Botswana on June 2, 2018. It appeared like a fireball over the sky before it broke apart and landed in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Scientists determined that, before breaking, the asteroid was about 5 feet in diameter and weighted 12,566 pounds. It was traveling at a speed of 37,282 mph. It broke up 16.7 miles above ground and was 20,000 times brighter than the full moon.

These numbers are based on researchers’ findings after studying the fragments of the asteroid, also called meteorites. The study was published in the Meteoritics and Planetary Science Journal.

Tracing the Asteroid

2018 LA was relatively small and asteroids of this capacity do not pose a danger to the earth, but studying them helps researchers improve their skills in detecting approaching asteroids that may be more of a threat.

The asteroid was first discovered by the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey. The research group spotted it zipping across the sky.

Peter Brown, professor, and Canada Research Chair in Planetary Small Bodies at Western University in Ontario worked with the Western Meteor Group to study the sound waves produced by the asteroid as it entered the earth’s atmosphere.

It was found to have one thirtieth of the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II. The infrasound shock wave was not as strong as expected based on the amount of light emitted from the fireball.

The data gathered from the Catalina Sky Survey was combined with the information gleaned from the ANU SkyMapper telescope in New South Wales and was used to map the asteroid’s journey. This marks the second time scientists have been able to observe an asteroid in space before it broke the earth’s atmosphere.

SkyMapper played an integral role in the breakthrough providing images that pinpointed meteorite fragments on earth as well as its origin in space.

The Asteroid’s Home

Researchers were able to trace the asteroid’s path to Vesta, the second largest asteroid in our solar system. 2018LA was a chunk of Vesta that went hurtling into space when impact occurred forming the larger asteroid’s Venenia basin.

After analyzing the meteorites that resulted from the dissolution of the 2018LA, scientists were able to determine that fragments were once buried beneath Vesta’s surface. They estimate that the basin formed about 4.2 billion years ago. They will continue to investigate and are hoping to find out more about Vesta’s story.

It’s amazing to think about the asteroids that come to earth and how long they have been journeying through the atmosphere. The study of 2018LA will provide insight as to the composition of the asteroid belt while matching meteorites to asteroid types and offering information on future approaching asteroids.We look forward to finding out what’s revealed as scientists put the pieces together.