Meteorite that landed in Botswana tracked to its birthplace in the asteroid belt

A small asteroid barreled through the sky and burned up over the Kalahari Desert of Botswana in the summer of 2018 and now, scientists suspect that the space rock originated from Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system.

The small asteroid, named 2018 LA, was first observed through a telescope at the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey and looked like a speck of light whizzing through the stars, according to a statement from the SETI Institute. “This is only the second time we have spotted an asteroid in space before it hit Earth over land,” Peter Jenniskens, a SETI Institute meteor astronomer, said in the statement. “The first was asteroid 2008 TC3 in Sudan 10 years earlier.”

Mere hours after being spotted, 2018 LA came tumbling out of the sky and burned up in the atmosphere over Botswana, transforming into a brilliant fireball. Remarkably, the SkyMapper Telescope at Australian National University (ANU) captured the moments just before the rock broke through Earth’s atmosphere, and CCTV camera footage caught the final moments of the meteor’s explosive descent in black-and-white.

“These last images before the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere were SkyMapper’s biggest contribution. They helped to pinpoint both the search area for the meteorite fragments on Earth and the meteor’s origin in space,” Christopher Onken, the ANU SkyMapper Project Scientist, said in a statement from ANU.

Pulling from the available astronomical observations, an international team of scientists pinpointed the region where the meteor likely disintegrated, scattering space rock fragments on the ground below; this region happened to fall within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a national park in the Kalahari Desert.

“The meteorite is named ‘Motopi Pan’ after a local watering hole,” Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, a geoscientist at the Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) in Lobatse, said in the SETI statement.

Read the full article from LIVESCIENCE here.

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