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Asteroid Spotted Just 2 Hours Before Hitting Earth Becomes Fifth Known Earth Impactor

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Jack Dunhill

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Jack Dunhill

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

Jack is a Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer for IFLScience, with a degree in Medical Genetics specializing in Immunology.

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

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The asteroid just became the fifth known Earth impactor, meaning our early warning systems are working. Image Credit: Stephanie Masclaux/Shutterstock.com 

A 3-meter asteroid scorched into view and broke through the Earth’s atmosphere on March 11, before possibly landing off the coast of Iceland. What makes the asteroid so special is that astronomers only noticed it just two hours before it made contact with Earth, making it only the fifth asteroid that has been spotted before hitting the planet. 

It is unclear whether the asteroid actually hit the water or broke up in the atmosphere, though local reports from Iceland state there was a large fireball overhead. The near-earth objects coordination center at the European Space Agency (ESA) is now appealing for any footage of the asteroid, though they note it is unlikely due to the remoteness of the location. 

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The discovery was made by Krisztián Sárneczky at a Hungarian observatory, who pointed out a "bright and fast-moving object" in the night sky. The object was named Sar2593 and deemed to have an impact likelihood of less than 1 percent. 

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However, following that designation, automatic systems picked up that Sar2593 would actually have an impact chance of 100 percent, landing somewhere near Northern Ireland. Quickly, astronomers from all over the world began attempting to monitor the object, which is no easy feat when it is traveling at 18.5 kilometers (11 miles) per second and flying so close to Earth. 

Sometime between 9:21 pm and 9:25 pm UTC, the object was estimated to have impacted Earth – that is, if it managed to make it through the atmosphere before burning up. Currently, there is no concrete evidence to suggest it did touch down, but there have been indications of a large impact off the coast of Iceland that may be a little more than a coincidence.

Both Iceland and Greenland picked up signals originating from an impact with an energy release of around 2 to 3 kilotons of TNT – for reference, the largest accidental non-nuclear blast in history, the Halifax explosion, was equivalent to 2.9 kilotons of TNT – indicating an asteroid of around 3 to 4 meters in diameter hit the ocean nearby.

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Scorching through the atmosphere at that speed would have had a destructive effect on the asteroid, with large amounts breaking away and vaporizing. This is often seen as large flashes of light, called a fireball, as friction with the air breaks the asteroid apart.   

ESA are now calling on anyone that may have spotted the asteroid to submit their footage, which you can visit here


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