An asteroid fragment was discovered after it was witnessed exploding over Botswana. The asteroid 2018 LA hit Earth 8 hours after being observed by the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey on 2 June.
Until now only one asteroid observed in space has had fragments found after hitting Earth.
Seconds after the asteroid passed through the atmosphere an explosion was witnessed over Botswana as the meteor fireball hurtled towards Earth.
Security surveillance footage from the villages Rakops and Maun in the north of Botswana was used to narrow down the possible position and altitude of the asteroid’s detonation.
“The biggest uncertainty we faced was to determine where exactly the meteorites fell,” explains Peter Jenniskens from the SETI institute, a non-profit research organisation.
Jenniskens took part in the search alongside Oliver Moses of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute (ORI).
The footage was calibrated by Tim Cooper from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.
Before a warrant could be given to start a search expedition, calculations were needed to figure out the fall position of the asteroid fragment using the security footage.
Jenniskens’ NASA-sponsored group calculated the area over which the fragments were scattered by wind after the explosion.
The Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks granted access to the park as it was a protected game reserve and provided rangers to protect the search team.
The challenge of finding a small meteorite surrounded by sand, long grass and thorns was heightened by also having to “search for a meteorite in 200 square kilometres of uncharted wild in a park teeming with elephants, lions and snakes,” says Alexander Proyer, a joint expedition leader.
After 5 days of scouring through the predicted fall site, the meteorite was found by a team of geoscientists, led by Jenniskens, from the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST), ORI and the Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI).
The meteorite was first recognised by Lesedi Seitshiro, a BUIST student.
“Meteorites are protected under Botswana law,” says Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, of the BGI who granted access to the park.
“This meteorite is a priceless piece of rock that the people of Botswana will want to enjoy seeing on display for generations to come.”