Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fireball from Earth-targetting asteroid likely spotted

As I mentioned last night, a small asteroid, named 2008 TC3, was discovered on a collision course with Earth. Because the rock was small (less than 5 meters, or about 15 feet, smaller even then the numbers in my original post), all that was expected was a streaking meteor and a likely explosion high in Earth's atmosphere.

Well, at least two reports have come in, one from an Air-France KLM jetliner somewhere over Africa, and another from a spotter in central Europe. Both described the event as lasting just about 1 second, terminating in a bright flash. This likely means the rock didn't survive very long, exploding very high in Earth's atmosphere.

More than anything, this event proves that our various near-Earth asteroid surveys are capable of detecting even very small asteroids, and that our computer simulations that determine the trajectories work. We thought that they would, but they had yet to be tested under extreme conditions, such as very close passage to a major planet, when the pull of gravity gets very strong very quickly.

Congratulations to the discoverers of 2088 TC3, to those who successfully predicted its path despite just a single day's worth of data, and to all who witnessed both the incoming asteroid and the resulting flash. Newton's theory of gravity wins again! (I always worry about that, since gravity is only a theory, complete with strengths and weaknesses. :-P )

No comments:

Post a Comment