Asteroid 2018 LA explodes over South Africa and Botswana several hours after discovery

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A newly discovered asteroid designated 2018 LA exploded somewhere along the South Africa – Botswana border region at 16:53 UTC on June 2, 2018. The asteroid was discovered several hours before it entered our atmosphere. It is possible pieces of it survived the entry and hit Earth. This is a very rare case of discovery before an impact.

This Apollo-class asteroid had an estimated diameter between 2.1 and 4.6 m (6.8 and 15 feet). It was first observed at Mt. Lemmon Survey (Catalina Sky Survey, Arizona) at 09:32 UTC, just over 7 hours before it entered our atmosphere at a speed (relative to the Earth) of 16.97 km/s.

As reported earlier today, the explosion was captured on a security camera owned by Barend Swanepoel from Ottosdal, South Africa:

Another witness from South Africa said the object was showing a yellow color as it was flying through the atmosphere. The yellow color suggests 2018 LA contained sodium, the same as 2013 Chelyabinsk asteroid.

The difference between these two objects is mainly their size. Chelyabinsk asteroid had a diameter of about 20 m (65 feet) and it exploded over a populated area, damaging over 3 000 buildings and injuring over 1 500 people (mostly by broken window glass).

Ephemeris | Orbit Diagram | Orbital Elements | Mission Design | Physical Parameters | Close-Approach Data ]

When it was discovered, asteroid 2018 LA had a temporary label ZLAF9B2.

Estimated trajectory of ZLAF9B2 (2018 LA) by ProjectPluto.com (MPML and Peter Birtwhistle)

South Africa fireball camera location June 2, 2018

Swanepoel’s camera location near Ottosdal, South Africa. Credit: Google

Alex Gibbs, the principal engineer at the Catalina Sky Survey, posted these images of the object on his Facebook page:

Peter Brown, a meteor scientist and planetary astronomer at the University of Western Ontario, confirmed the impact earlier today.

“A strong infrasound of a bolide was detected over Botswana between 14:45 and 17:00 UTC on June 2,” he said. “The yield was between 0.3 and 0.5 kT, corresponding to 2 m (6.5 feet) diameter asteroid.”

“It remains to be seen if any pieces made it to the ground,” Gibbs said after Brown posted infrasound data.

According to eNCA, two large meteors were spotted around the North West province on June 2. One meteorite fell between Lichtenburg and Mafikeng, and the one in the video posted by Barend Swanepoel fell between Hartebeesfontein and Coligny.

Interestingly, this event took place just one day after a similar bright fireball exploded over the Chinese city of Jinghong in Yunnan Province:

This article will be updated if more information becomes available.

If you witnessed this event, please fill this form at the International Meteor Organization.


Asteroid 2018 LA at Minor Planet Center; at CNEOS

Featured image: The green line indicates the object’s apparent motion relative to the Earth, and the bright green marks are the object’s location at approximately one-hour intervals.  The blue arrow points in the direction of Earth’s motion and the yellow arrow points toward the Sun. Credit: Minor Planet Center.

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