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The Earth-bound asteroid scientists saw coming

On October 7, 2008, an asteroid the size of a car blazed through the atmosphere and crashed into the Nubian Desert in the African nation of Sudan. Eyewitnesses who were looking up at the sky at the time reported seeing a fireball over the desert when the asteroid, named 2008 TC3, exploded into pieces. Some people weren’t surprised by all the fireworks though. For the first time in history, scientists were able to watch the asteroid as it flew through space, then entered Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the desert. 2008 TC3 is the first asteroid to be observed both in space and on Earth. Before this asteroid’s arrival, scientists have had to rely on data from one place or the other. Asteroids the size of 2008 TC3 are not uncommon, and fragments from one usually strike Earth every year. Because they are so small, Earth-bound asteroids usually remain unseen until they enter our atmosphere. Larger asteroids are easier to see, but are more rare. “It’s like when bugs splatter on the windshield. You don’t see the bug until it’s too late,” says Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., who has studied the asteroid’s collision. “You’d see a baseball coming towards the windshield much sooner.” In the case of 2008 TC3, the astronomers who first observed it got lucky. They didn’t know they were going to see it. “It just so happened that the asteroid was coming from the direction that the telescope was pointed in,” says astronomer Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. The astronomers first saw the asteroid on October 6, through a telescope on a mountain near Tucson, Ariz. As they watched 2008 TC3 move across the sky, the scientists studied its mineral composition by observing how the asteroid reflected sunlight. They also used tracking equipment to correctly predict when the asteroid would impact Earth. Shortly after the collision, Jenniskens and a team of astronomers and students from Sudan headed out into the desert to look for meteorites, pieces of the asteroid that survived the fiery trip through the atmosphere and landed on Earth. The team brought back about 47 meteorites from 2008 TC3. Once they were able to study the fragments in the laboratory, the scientists quickly realized that the 2008 TC3 meteorites were unlike anything they had seen or studied before. More research on the pieces gave the scientists new information about the characteristics of different kinds of meteorites. In addition to helping scientists understand more about asteroids, 2008 TC3 may prove to be helpful to humankind in the future. If a larger and more dangerous asteroid ever comes crashing toward Earth, scientists might see it coming. Power words: (Adapted from the Yahoo! Kids Dictionary) Meteorite: A stony or metallic mass of matter that has fallen to Earth's surface from outer space. Asteroid: Any of numerous small celestial bodies that revolve around the sun. Telescope: Any of various devices used to detect and observe distant objects. Atmosphere: The gaseous mass surrounding a celestial body and retained by the celestial body's gravitational field.

The Earth-bound asteroid scientists saw coming
The Earth-bound asteroid scientists saw coming








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