May 26, 2022

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Fridge-sized asteroid hit Earth two hours after it was first spotted

Fridge-sized asteroid hit Earth two hours after it was first spotted

An asteroid around the size of a refrigerator was spotted hours before it hit Earth’s atmosphere, and while it wasn’t dangerous, it marked the fifth time in history an asteroid was detected right before hitting our planet.

On March 11, astronomer Krisztian Sarneczky noticed an asteroid at the Piszkéstető Observatory in Hungary. Sarneczky reported it to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, which confirmed it was the first time the asteroid had been observed.

NASA’s “Scout” system, which constantly searches the Minor Planet Center’s database for any potential impacts, then calculated the asteroid’s orbit, finding that the asteroid would certainly hit Earth. The system then notified the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and other asteroid impact systems.

Luckily for Earth, the asteroid, named 2022 EB5, was around 6½-feet-long, a size “too small to pose a hazard to Earth,” NASA said in a statement.

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“Scout” determined the asteroid would enter Earth’s atmosphere around Jan Mayen, a Norwegian island roughly 300 miles northeast of Iceland. At 5:23 p.m. EDT, two hours after the asteroid was first spotted by Sarneczky, the asteroid hit Earth’s atmosphere just as “Scout” predicted.

It was the fifth time an asteroid was spotted hours before it hit Earth and the first time it’s happened since 2019.

“Scout had only 14 observations over 40 minutes from one observatory to work with when it first identified the object as an impactor. We were able to determine the possible impact locations, which initially extended from western Greenland to off the coast of Norway,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer who developed Scout. “As more observatories tracked the asteroid, our calculations of its trajectory and impact location became more precise.”

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The International Meteor Organization said no meteorites from the asteroid have been recovered, but some people in Iceland reported seeing bright flashes, indicating the space rock became a fireball.

Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said asteroids like 2022 EB5 enter Earth’s atmosphere around every 10 months, but it’s hard to spot one before it’s already entered the atmosphere.

“Very few of these asteroids have actually been detected in space and observed extensively prior to impact, basically because they are very faint until the last few hours, and a survey telescope has to observe just the right spot of sky at the right time for one to be detected,” Chodas said.

While this asteroid snuck up on astronomers, there is no need to worry about a bigger, catastrophic asteroid doing the same. NASA said larger asteroids are easier to spot and can be found far in advance. The agency noted this asteroid showed their systems can be highly accurate in projecting an object’s likely impact location and would help planetary defense systems to be fully prepared.

NASA is testing its planetary defense systems should a dangerous asteroid ever threatens to hit Earth.