Star Stories Episode 427: The Asteroid Impact 2008 TC3 [Astrodicticum Simplex]

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Star Stories Episode 427: The Asteroid Impact 2008 TC3

On the night of October 5 to 6, 2008, American astronomer Richard Kowalski was busy observing the sky at the Mount Lemon Observatory in Arizona. From the top of the 2790-meter mountain it had a good view and this was necessary to meet the Catalina Sky Survey requirements. In 1998, NASA was mandated by Congress to locate at least 90% of all near-Earth asteroids over one kilometer in diameter. The mission was carried out at the Mount Lemon Observatory, among other places, and Kowalski was once again looking for potentially dangerous asteroids.

Just before midnight local time, he was successful. He discovered an asteroid and the first calculation of the orbit showed that it could collide with Earth. The unusual thing about it: When Kowalski saw the asteroid, it was outside the moon’s orbit. If you really hit the ground, it will happen in the near future. How close is that to the hundreds of observations made around the world shortly after the first sight: It won’t even take 24 hours; According to European Time in the early morning of October 7, the time has come. The asteroid will hit northern Sudan in the Nubian desert.

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And this is exactly what happened. The accident happened on October 7, 2008 at 4:00 AM 46 minutes CEST. The asteroid collided with Earth exactly as previously calculated. And that in the short period between discovery and impact there was no global mass panic; The fact that the effect has not caused a global catastrophe because this is about reality and not a Hollywood movie. As I often told you in stellar stories, an asteroid has to be large enough first to make a hole on Earth and second to be much larger if it is to cause global catastrophe. However, most asteroids are small. Large parts like the one the Catalina Sky Survey was looking for are rare. And because it is so large, you will likely find it long before the effect occurs. Small things are more common and hard to see. But it also does not cause such great harm; Most of the time they do not reach the ground. For an asteroid to create a crater, it must be about 50 meters high – depending on the material, a little more or less. For the effect to have global consequences, this thing must be at least 1 km long. The asteroid discovered by Kowalski was only four meters long.

There it goes down! Photo: public domain)

His discovery was nothing but a cause for panic. It is a huge opportunity for science. Because even then it was never possible to anticipate an asteroid impact and then observe that collision. Time and time again, we see large (or small, depending on) things light up and burn as they fly through the atmosphere. But we don’t know where they came from. Our first look at them is also our last look. It was different here. The asteroid, named “2008 TC3”, was found long before collision to determine its orbit. So we knew where he was in the solar system before he made a final visit to Earth.

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