In the early hours of Saturday, Nov. 19, the skies over southern Ontario, Canada, lit up as a small asteroid shot innocently through the sky high in Earth’s atmosphere, breaking up and likely scattering small meteorites across the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario. The fireball was no surprise. The asteroid, about 1 meter (3 feet) wide, was detected 3 ½ hours before impact, making this event the sixth time in history that a small asteroid has been tracked in space before entering Earth’s atmosphere. smashed.
NASA is tasked with detecting and tracking much larger near-Earth objects that could survive passage through Earth’s atmosphere and cause damage to the ground, but those objects can also be detected much further in advance than small objects like the asteroid that broke up over the south. Ontario. Such small asteroids pose no threat to Earth, but they could be a useful test of NASA’s planetary defense capabilities for discovery, tracking, orbiting, and impact prediction.
“The planetary defense community has really shown their skill and preparedness with their response to this brief warning event,” said Kelly Fast, Near-Earth Object Observations program manager for the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Such innocuous impacts become spontaneous real-world exercises and give us confidence that NASA’s planetary defense systems are capable of responding to the possibility of a serious impact from a larger object.”
The asteroid was discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, headquartered at the University of Arizona in Tucson, on the evening of Nov. 18 during routine searches for near-Earth objects. The observations were quickly reported to the Minor Planet Center (MPC) – the internationally recognized clearing house for the position measurements of minor celestial bodies – and the data was then automatically posted to the Near-Earth Object Confirmation Page.
NASA’s Scout impact hazard rating system, which is maintained by the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, automatically retrieved the new data from that page and began calculating the possible trajectory of the object and probability of impact. CNEOS calculates every known orbit of a near-Earth asteroid to provide assessments of potential impact hazards in support of NASA’s PDCO.