Scientists track asteroid from space to ground impact

March 27th, 2009 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 27 (IANS) Scientists have identified a tiny asteroid before it hit the earth, helping computers pinpoint its origins and predict the arrival of its shattered parts.
The four-metre-diameter asteroid, called 2008 TC3, was initially sighted by the automated Catalina Sky Survey telescope at Mount Lemmon, Arizona, on Oct 6 last year.

Numerous observatories, alerted to the invader, then photographed the object. Computations correctly predicted impact would occur 19 hours after discovery in the Nubian Desert of northern Sudan.

A wide variety of analyses were performed while the asteroid was en route and after its surviving pieces were located by meteorite hunters in an intense search.

Searchers have recovered 47 meteorites so far - offshoots from the disintegrating asteroid, mostly immolated by its encounter with atmospheric friction - with a total mass of 3.95 kg.

“I would say that this work demonstrates, for the first time, the ability of astronomers to discover and predict the impact of a space object,” said Sandia National Lab researcher Mark Boslough, a member of the research team.

Perhaps more importantly, the event tested the ability of society to respond very quickly to a predicted impact, said Boslough, said a Sandia release.

“In this case, it was never a threat, so the response was scientific. Had it been deemed a threat - a larger asteroid that would explode over a populated area - an alert could have been issued in time that could potentially save lives by evacuating the danger zone or instructing people to take cover.”

These findings have been published in the March issue of Nature.

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