Science

Astronomers spot small space rock just hours before meteorite impact over Canada

A small space rock was discovered just hours before it hit Earth’s atmosphere and landed in Lake Ontario in Canada on Saturday (November 19).

A mini asteroid less than 3 feet (1 meter) wide was spotted by astronomer David Rankin at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona, according to SpaceWeather.com. (will open in a new tab). Subsequent observations by other astronomers confirmed that the rock, which came from the direction of the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, was on a collision course with Earth.

Just three hours after first being detected, an object dubbed C8FF042 cut through the skies over Canada and landed in Lake Ontario, according to NASA. (will open in a new tab).

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), this was only the sixth asteroid sighting just before the impact. In March, a Hungarian astronomer discovered a slightly larger space rock just two hours before it burned up over the North Atlantic Ocean.

On the subject: Asteroid apocalypse: how big does a space rock need to be to end human civilization?

Eyewitnesses in and around Toronto reported seeing a bright fireball that lit up the sky on Saturday at around 3:27 am EST (0827 GMT). Many meteor and webcams captured the view of the fireball; One stunning video shows a streak of light passing behind Toronto’s iconic CN Tower.

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According to NASA, radar stations tracked the meteorite at an altitude of 9 miles (15 kilometers) to 0.53 miles (0.850 km), where it likely broke up. Representatives of the space agency wrote that most of the fragments probably fell into Lake Ontario, and some small fragments may have landed near the cities of Grimsby and McNab. American Meteor Society (will open in a new tab) received 59 reports of sightings of fireballs.

Small asteroids often cross the path of our planet. The smallest of them usually burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving behind only ephemeral light streaks. Fragments of larger rocks can reach Earth as precious meteorites, which scientists can study to gain insight into the nature of objects in the solar system.

Large rocks, over 65 feet (20 m) wide, can cause problems on Earth, as the shock waves that cause them to explode can shatter windows and knock down trees. Larger asteroids can be even more destructive, but fortunately their collisions are very rare.

The international astronomical community is mapping the asteroid population near Earth to keep track of all potentially dangerous asteroids. Astronomers believe that most of the “planet killers” – bodies with a diameter of more than 1 km – are already known, and none of them pose an immediate danger. However, many smaller breeds capable of causing damage to the entire country have not yet been discovered.

In September of this year, NASA’s DART probe crashed into the small satellite asteroid Dimorphos in order to change its orbit around the parent asteroid Didymos. The experiment was a success, proving that if a future threat is detected in advance, we can repel it.

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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