Boulder-sized Asteroid Will Burn Up in Earth's Atmosphere Tonight

Oct 07, 2008
This photo shows an 18 x 18 arcminute patch of the sky centered on asteroid 2008 TC3. The telescope tracked the asteroid, which is moving across the sky, so background stars appear as streaks while the asteroid appears as a point of light. 2008 TC3 is expected to enter Earth's atmosphere over northern Sudan at 10:46 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, Oct. 6 and burn up. Credit: Peter Birtwhistle, Great Shefford Observatory, Berkshire, UK

(PhysOrg.com) -- A tiny asteroid discovered just hours ago at an Arizona observatory will enter Earth's atmosphere harmlessly at approximately 10:46 p.m. Eastern time tonight (2:46 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time). There is no danger to people or property since the asteroid will not reach the ground. It is between 3 and 15 feet (1-5 m) in diameter and will burn up in the upper atmosphere, well above aircraft heights. A brilliant fireball will be visible as a result.

"We want to stress that this object is not a threat," said Dr. Timothy Spahr, director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

"We're excited since this is the first time we have issued a prediction that an object will enter Earth's atmosphere," Spahr added. Odds are between 99.8 and 100 percent that the object will encounter Earth, according to calculations provided by Andrea Milani of the University of Pisa.

When a meteoroid (small asteroid) enters the atmosphere, it compresses the air in front of it. That compression heats the air, which in turn heats the object, causing it to glow and vaporize. Once it starts to glow, the object is called a meteor.

"A typical meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand," explained Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Center. "This meteor will be a real humdinger in comparison!"

The meteor is expected to be visible from eastern Africa as an extremely bright fireball traveling rapidly across the sky from west to east. The object is expected to enter the atmosphere over northern Sudan at a shallow angle.

"We're eager for observations from astronomers near the asteroid's approach path. We really hope that someone will manage to photograph it," said Williams.

The Minor Planet Center, which is located at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, serves as the worldwide clearinghouse for asteroid and comet observations. It collects, checks and disseminates observations and calculates orbits.

Provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Explore further: Why don't we search for different life?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A recipe for returning Pluto to full planethood

Feb 20, 2015

A storm is brewing, a battle of words and a war of the worlds. The Earth is not at risk. It is mostly a civil dispute, but it has the potential to influence the path of careers. In 2014, a Harvard led debate ...

The controversy over interstellar messaging

Feb 20, 2015

Should we beam messages into deep space, announcing our presence to any extraterrestrial civilizations that might be out there? Or, should we just listen? Since the beginnings of the modern Search for Extraterrestrial ...

Recommended for you

Image: Training for Sentinel-2A launch

8 hours ago

On 25 February, the Sentinel-2A Mission Control Team at ESOC, ESA's mission operations centre, Darmstadt, Germany, commenced simulation training for the critical launch and early orbit phase.

Why don't we search for different life?

Mar 03, 2015

If we really want to find life on other worlds, why do we keep looking for life based on carbon and water? Why don't we look for the stuff that's really different?

OSIRIS catches glimpse of Rosetta's shadow

Mar 03, 2015

Several days after Rosetta's close flyby of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 14 February 2015, images taken on this day by OSIRIS, the scientific imaging system on board, have now been downlinked to Earth. ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PaulLove
not rated yet Oct 07, 2008
:) sooo we see the asteroid less than 24 hrs before it arrives, its a good start but lets hope we see the big one far enough out to at least panic :)
NeilFarbstein
not rated yet Oct 07, 2008
Definitely! We have to plan for the big one. I dont want to be caught by surprise. If you want to talk about this contact me at protn7@att.net

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.