Massive asteroid explodes over Puerto Rico just hours after it was first detected


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On Saturday, June 22, scientists in Hawaii spotted a 13-foot asteroid just hours before it was expected to impact with the Earth. Fortunately for all of us, the car-sized object burned up over Puerto Rico, according to LiveScience:

“The asteroid, named 2019 MO … broke apart in large fireball as it hit the atmosphere about 240 miles (380 kilometers) south of San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the University of Hawaii.

This is only the fourth time in history that scientists have spotted an asteroid so close to impact. The other three detections all occurred within the past 11 years, including 2008 TC3, 2014 AA and 2018 LA, which landed as a meteorite in southern Africa just 7 hours after it was noticed by scientists.”

Via Wikimedia Commons

The object was so large that even satellites in orbit spotted it:

“Satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded its impact and destruction at 5:25 p.m. EDT (21:25 UTC).”

Detecting the asteroid before it burned up was cause for celebration by those who track such objects:

“This is the first time that two survey telescopes — the University of Hawaii’s ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) and Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) — showed that they can ‘provide sufficient warning to move people away from the impact site of an incoming asteroid,’ according to a statement.”

When the asteroid was first observed, it was rated as a two out of four, which means it appeared highly unlikely to strike Earth. But that changed as more data became available.

While relatively large, 2019 MO was minuscule compared to a meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013, known as the Chelyabinsk Event:

“(A) 66-foot-long (20 m) meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013. The energy released by that meteor was equivalent to about 440,000 tons of TNT.”

Here’s an incredible video of the Chelyabinsk meteor:

 

 

 

This latest close call with a heavenly object is proof that the ATLAS system does indeed work:

“Now that ATLAS is up and running (it began operating in 2015), it will detect all kinds of asteroids, big and small. The system’s two telescopes, situated 100 miles (160 km) apart, scan the night sky for asteroids every two nights. Since then, hey have discovered about 100 asteroids larger than about 100 feet (30 m) in diameter every year.

“In theory, ATLAS should be able to find smaller asteroids, such as 2019 MO, about half a day before they arrive and larger objects, like the Chelyabinsk meteor, a few days before they hit.”

There are already warnings that a large meteor will give us all one hell of a show as soon as 2029, as Space.com reported earlier this year:

“The solar system has a sense of humor: A decade from now, on Friday, April 13, 2029, a large asteroid will streak across the sky — but it’s a cause for excitement, not fear, scientists say.

“That asteroid, called Apophis, stretches about 1,100 feet (340 meters) across and will pass within 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) of Earth’s surface. That might sound scary, but scientists are positive that it will not hit Earth. Instead, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for scientists to truly understand asteroids near Earth.”

Having advance warning of such events is always helpful if only to allow us to train our eyes on the skies and see things that in some cases are once in a lifetime happenings.

 

Here’s a video of the five most dramatic asteroids ever caught on camera:

 


Featured Image: Meteor via Pixabay


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