Space + FlightSpace & Flight

    Astronomers successfully predict an asteroid impact above Iceland

    Two hours before asteroid 2022 EB5 entered Earth’s atmosphere, scientists knew exactly when and where the space rock would strike.

    ByHanna AliNOVA NextNOVA Next

    An artist's concept of a near-Earth asteroid like 2022 EB5. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    On Friday, Mar. 11 at around 7:30 p.m. GMT, an astronomer spotted an asteroid hurtling toward our planet at an estimated speed of 39,600 mph. By 9:30 p.m., the asteroid, dubbed “2022 EB5,” entered Earth’s atmosphere. It disintegrated over Jan Mayen island near Iceland, its pieces most likely plunging into the Arctic Ocean, the International Meteor Organization reports. 2022 EB5’s descent marks the fifth time astronomers successfully mapped out an asteroid’s collision course with Earth ahead of impact.

    Krisztián Sárneczky, the astronomer who first spotted 2022 EB5, was at Konkoly Observatory’s Piszkéstető Mountain Station near Budapest, Hungary when he made the observation. Soon after reporting his finding of a mysterious object hurtling toward Earth to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, fellow astronomers identified it as a near-Earth asteroid. “The sighting soon got a lot more interesting,” Chelsea Gohd writes for Space.com. “​​Just 30 minutes after the discovery, data showed that the space rock was a mere two hours away from colliding with Earth's atmosphere.”

    2022 EB5 belongs to the Apollo asteroids, space rocks considered by NASA to be “potentially hazardous” because of the close approaches they make to Earth. Named for 1862 Apollo, an asteroid discovered by German astronomer Karl Reinmuth 90 years ago, it takes Apollo asteroids less than two years to orbit the Sun. Asteroid 2022 EB5, which astronomers believe was 10 feet wide prior to its descent to Earth (or as some news outlets say, “half the size of a giraffe”) quickly caught headlines and the attention of social media users on platforms like Reddit.

    NASA scientists predicted asteroid 2022 EB5's trajectory before hitting the Earth’s atmosphere on Mar. 11, 2022. The asteroid—estimated to be about 6.5 feet wide—was discovered only two hours before impact. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Shortly after Sárneczky’s observation and report, NASA's "Near-Earth Asteroid Scout" (NEA Scout), “a miniaturized spacecraft known as a CubeSat,” NASA writes, began calculating 2022 EB5’s trajectory toward our planet. "As soon as Scout determined that 2022 EB5 was going to hit Earth's atmosphere," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) reports, NEA Scout alerted NASA's Center for Near Earth Objects (CNEOS) and its Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which is managing a new asteroid-deflection mission called DART. After only 40 minutes, NEA Scout and its team of scientists were able to predict 2022 EB5's exact impact time and location.

    Asteroids like 2022 EB5 are not big enough to be a hazard to our planet or society, researchers believe. Though 2022 EB5 likely “started out about 10 feet wide,” Kelly Kizer Whitt writes for EarthSky, 2022 EB5 sizzled during its descent to about 6.5 feet according to NASA estimates, "much smaller than the objects that the Planetary Defense Coordination Office is tasked by NASA with detecting and warning about," NASA JPL reports. In fact, tiny asteroids "impact the atmosphere quite frequently," CNEOS Director Paul Chodas told NASA JPL. But unlike 2022 EB5, “very few of these asteroids have actually been detected in space and observed extensively prior to impact," Chodas said.

    In fact, “this is probably a once in a lifetime experience for an ‘asteroid hunter,’” Sárneczky told Space.com.

    2022 EB5's fiery plummet to the Earth may have caused a brilliant, visible shooting star, astronomers believe, but no citizen observations have been reported. While the remnants of some other Earth-striking asteroids have been recovered, "all of 2022 EB5 almost certainly burned up or fell into the Arctic Ocean," Eric Mack writes for Forbes, so it’s unlikely humans will recover pieces of the asteroid. Still, 2022 EB5 now joins an exclusive cosmic club of asteroids—2008 TC3, 2014 AA, 2018 LA, and 2019 MO—each named for their year of impact and whose collision courses with Earth were discovered before they came in contact with our atmosphere.

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