He Discovered an Asteroid—Then Its Earth-Bound Path

It soon after struck Earth's atmosphere over Norwegian sea, as NASA system predicted
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2022 1:32 PM CDT
Updated Mar 20, 2022 4:40 PM CDT
He Discovered an Asteroid—Then Its Earth-Bound Path
A screenshot from an animation showing 2022 EB5's trajectory before hitting Earth’s atmosphere on Friday.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

(Newser) – An asteroid was spotted for the first time Friday only about two hours before it entered into Earth's atmosphere. NASA's early warning system that detects near-Earth objects was put to the test after astronomer Krisztián Sarneczky at the Piszkésteto Observatory in northern Hungary notified the Minor Planet Center of the 6.5-foot-wide asteroid heading our way, per CNN. Such small asteroids reach our atmosphere every 10 months or so but usually slip through unnoticed. Indeed, this "is only the fifth small asteroid to be detected in space before hitting Earth’s atmosphere," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Tuesday.

NASA's "Scout" impact hazard assessment system, which automatically searches the MPC database, "had only 14 observations over 40 minutes from one observatory to work with when it first identified the object as an impactor," said NASA engineer Davide Farnocchia. Calculating the trajectory of the asteroid dubbed 2022 EB5, "we were able to determine the possible impact locations, which initially extended from western Greenland to off the coast of Norway." Once information on the asteroid was shared on the Scout webpage and with the Center for Near Earth Object Studies, more observations were made, and "our calculations of its trajectory and impact location became more precise."

It's rare that so small an asteroid is "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," said CNEOS director Paul Chodas. Still, the asteroid—which disintegrated over the Norwegian sea north of Iceland, where there have been a few reports of a fireball, per Space.com—"hit the atmosphere as predicted by Scout" and at the predicted time, NASA said. It added "this real-world event" suggests the "impact prediction models at CNEOS are highly capable of informing the response to the potential impact of a larger object," which would be visible at greater distance. (Read more asteroid stories.)

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