Astronomers predict a small asteroid discovered earlier today will enter Earth’s atmosphere tonight. Friction with the air will cause the object to explode with roughly a kiloton of energy, creating a spectacular fireball as it disintegrates. The object, designated 2008 TC3, is only 3 to 15 feet (1 to 5 meters) across and poses no threat to reach Earth’s surface or the altitude of airplanes.
Steve Chesley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimates that the asteroid will enter the atmosphere above northern Sudan at approximately 2h46m Universal Time (10:46 P.M. EDT). The fireball should be visible from eastern Africa, and astronomers hope observers will be able to photograph it.
The Mt. Lemmon Survey discovered 2008 TC3 at 6h43m Universal Time (2:43 A.M. EDT) this morning. In the intervening hours, astronomers have been updating its position to get a better idea of where the asteroid will enter the atmosphere. This is the first astronomers have been able to predict when and where an object will hit Earth’s atmosphere.