Asteroid 2018 LA was spotted in space Saturday just hours before it slammed into Earth's atmosphere, but researchers said it was so small that it likely burned up before it ever made the planet's surface, Newsweek magazine reported.
The Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, spotted the asteroid hurtling toward Earth, and NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies and the Minor Planet Center confirmed its course, the magazine said.
Scientists determined that the asteroid measured roughly 6-feet wide, small enough to be destroyed by Earth's atmosphere, Newsweek wrote. Astronomers believe that 2018 LA burned up over the African country of Botswana before impact.
NASA reported that automated alerts were sent out to the community of asteroid observers to obtain further data, and to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The space agency said the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere at 38,000 miles per hour at about 12:44 p.m. Eastern time, or 6:14 p.m. in Botswana. NASA scientists said they believed the asteroid created a fireball several miles above the Botswana.
"This was a much smaller object than we are tasked to detect and warn about," Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA headquarters, said in the space agency's statement. "However, this real-world event allows us to exercise our capabilities and gives some confidence our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to the potential impact of a larger object."
The Botswana government noted the asteroid in a Twitter post connected with a YouTube video of the reported space rock entering Earth's atmosphere.
"The discovery of asteroid 2018 LA is only the third time that an asteroid has been discovered to be on an impact trajectory," Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "It is also only the second time that the high probability of an impact was predicted well ahead of the event itself."
NASA said the first time happened when 13 foot-wide Asteroid 2008 TC3 exploded in the predawn sky above Northern Sudan on Oct. 7, 2008. Astronomers found the asteroid 19 hours before impact, NASA said.
The second event happened when Asteroid 2014 AA was discovered a few hours before impact on Jan. 1, 2014, over the Atlantic Ocean, NASA reported.
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