A remnant of a brilliant fireball that exploded over Africa has been recovered from the desert
Most people in Botswana had no idea that a bright white fireball would explode in the sky on June 2. It lit up the sky as it passed through the upper atmosphere, illuminating the region with a strange white glow before exploding in lightning. Since then, researchers have scoured the region for traces of the asteroid, and on Monday they announced their success: after days of searching the desert, they had found a piece of the ancient fireball.
The fragment of the asteroid 2018 LA was discovered in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, which, at 20,400 square miles, is the second largest such reserve in the world. To find it in this huge swath of the Kalahari Desert, researchers from the SETI Institute, the Okavango Research Institute at the University of Botswana, NASA and the Southern African Astronomical Society combed through end of surveillance videos and other images to calculate the exact position and altitude of the meteor. .
They got a head start using data collected by the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey, which actually spotted the asteroid eight hours before it headed for Earth.
“The biggest uncertainty we faced was determining where exactly the meteorites fell,” says SETI’s principal researcher. Peter Jenniskens, Ph.D., an expert from the SETI Institute in California, in a declaration released on Friday. The team discovered that the asteroid shattered into numerous fragments, which were blown apart by the wind. Fortunately, they were able to reduce the location of the fragments to a relatively small area of 77 square miles.
From there, hunting became very low-tech and, at times, quite dangerous. Geoscientists from various research institutions in Botswana, led by Jenniskens, could do nothing but walk through grass, shrubs and sand looking for unusual stones while avoiding elephants, snakes and lions. . After five days, Lesedi Seitshiro, a student at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology, spotted the small rock in the sand.
As small as it is, the meteorite is significant because it is rare for someone to find pieces of an asteroid first spotted in space. This is only the second time in history that this has happened. In 2009, another team led by Jenniskens discovered pieces of a truck-sized asteroid that exploded over an 18-mile stretch of the Nubian Desert in 2008. LA 2018, by comparison, was only about six meters tall. feet in diameter. As such, the Catalina Sky Survey team that spotted it deemed it safe and didn’t alert anyone, which is why it was such a surprise when the fireball lit up the Botswana sky. .
It is possible that there are still pieces of LA 2018 in the reserve – the 2009 research yielded 280 pieces – but for now, the recovered remains of the asteroid are now the legal property of the government of Botswana. It is likely that scientists will do a more in-depth analysis of it, which could reveal clues to its origins and formation. Light reflectance analysis on the asteroid discovered in 2009 revealed new details about F-class asteroids, which shed light on the formation of the first celestial bodies at the start of the solar system. Over the next few months, we’ll likely find out what secrets LA 2018 has to share.