For the first time in recorded history a very small asteroid has been discovered before burning up in Earth’s atmosphere as a brilliant fireball. During the night of Oct 5/6, Rich Kowalski of the Mount Lemmon Survey discovered a new Near-Earth asteroid named 2008 TC3. It now appears that this object will hit the atmosphere of the Earth tonight (Oct 7 UT) at 2:46 UT (10:46 EDT) over northern Sudan in northeast Africa.
Based on the brightness of this asteroid, it is very small and probably on the order of 2-meters or 7-feet in diameter. As big as this may seem, objects this small usually break up into much smaller pieces with little remaining to hit the ground. If pieces do survive to hit the ground they will probably be small, no bigger than a grapefruit. What this object will do is produce a spectacular fireball for a few tens of seconds over the Sudan. The Near-Earth Object Project Office at NASA-JPL estimates that an event of this size occurs once every few months somewhere in the world. The fireball will probably be more spectacular than the Sept 19 fireball observed over southern California but will only be visible within a few hundred miles of northern Sudan. It will not be visible from the rest of the world.
This is the first time a small fireball producing asteroid has been observed before entering the Earth’s asteroid. Why hasn’t this happened before? Object of this size are very faint. In fact, of the 360000+ known asteroids, we have only found 2 other asteroids that are this small. Also asteroids very close to Earth move very fast. Now moving fast isn’t the problem, the problem is that there is so much junk in orbit around the Earth from decades of satellite launches, that it is very hard to tell the difference between a small close asteroid and an old satellite. So the current asteroid hunting telescopes have to be lucky to pick one of these objects up. In the future, the next generation of asteroid survey telescopes will be able to discover these objects further out. There may come a time in the not too distant future, when a spectacular fireball will be predicted to occur over a major population center days in advance. When that day happens, you won’t have to be lucky to see a fireball, you can just go outside at the predicted time and enjoy the show.
Before it hit the Earth’s atmosphere, 2008 TC3 was on an orbit that took it as close to the Sun as 0.91 AU and as far from the Sun as 1.63 AU. It took 1.43 years to orbit the Sun.
If any photos of the fireball become available I will post link to them.
Links to a few publications about 2008 TC3…
The discovery announcement from the Minor Planet Center
Press release from the University of Arizona
Press release from the Near-Earth Object Project Office at NASA JPL
Very nice… now let’s hope there are some folks taking a mess of video and stills tonight (well, almost right now). I’d love to use some pictures in my Astro class tomorrow (talk about topical!)
It is quite a deserted and poor part of the world.
And of course, most people would realise the possible meteorites would be quite valuable. It has been known for people to withhold location details and photos.
so where did it go? did it bouce off sudan? Roll off into the desert?
Apparently the flight crew of an Air-France-KLM aircraft in the area was alerted to the possibility, and may have seen the event itself (at a range of about 750 naut. miles). Reported at spaceweather.com
man i cant wait for the video….
I’ve been watching the skycam on the Canary Islands, which doesn’t have the best view of the low south east, but I thought if it came in at a reasonable angle there might be a chance…
anyway, at t+20 minutes, still haven’t seen anything
24 hrs later and no pictures?
Why didnt I buy a high-def video camera and a plane ticket to Sudan?
Surely I could recoup to cost if I was the person on earth to film it!
> 24 hrs later and no pictures?
Quite the opposite: Detections of the bolide by various (often quite exotic) means are being published all the time! See this summary as well as the preceding post for all the links.
on the evening of the 7th, before it was full darkness, if memory serves right, I was perplexed by a fiery orange flickering light high above East Central Scotland. It appeared not to be moving. I could not quite work out that the thing was. It was quite like a navigation light on an airliner, apart from being confusingly stationary. I watched for a few minutes until high thin cloud partially obscured it, then continued on my way home. I can only think this must have been TC3, which I had heard nothing about until the early hours of the 9th (now). Does this seem likely?
Thanks for sending in your observation. I’m not sure what you saw. It definitely wasn’t TC3. TC3 is (was) so small that before it hit the atmosphere and burned up, it was very faint. You would have needed a good sized backyard telescope to have seen it. I’d like to say it was a planet but all of the visible planets are low on the horizon from Scotland right now. Plus planets wouldn’t flicker.
I also saw a bright little meteor in Massachusetts the evening of 10/6. Too bad it’s probably unrelated.
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