Mini Asteroid 2014 AA Hits Earth On New Year’s Day

Animation shows the Earth as observed from asteroid 2014 AA shortly before impact. The asteroid approaches from the night side and enters Earth’s shadow cone at approximately 7:45 p.m. CST January 1; a little more than an hour later it entered the atmosphere. Click for more information. Credit: Pasquale Tricarico

I know, I know. That’s a scary headline, but we’re all safe. A very small asteroid estimated at between 3 and 13 feet across (1-4 meters) named 2014 AA headed straight for Earth around 9 p.m. CST on Jan. 1. It likely broke apart in the atmosphere with pieces scattering somewhere along a path stretching from Central America across the Atlantic Ocean to West Africa.

Possible impact zone of the asteroid 2014 AA. It was the first new asteroid discovered in 2014. Map credit: NASA

The reason for the uncertainty is that only a few measurements of of 2014 AA’s position were possible before it literally disappeared from view. Richard Kowalski of the Catalina Sky Survey out of Tucson, Ariz. picked up the object on New Year’s Eve in northern Orion as a tiny twinkle of 19th magnitude. At the time, the asteroid was only 300,000 miles from Earth. When it hit the atmosphere some 22 hours later, it must have created a spectacular fireball.

This sequence of four images taken about every 30 seconds shows 2014 AA’s movement across northern Orion on the evening of Dec. 31. Credit: Catalina Sky Survey / NASA

2014 AA was similar in size to 2008 TC3, the only other asteroid discovered and tracked before impact. That one, estimated at 13 feet across, fragmented in Earth’s atmosphere over the Nubian Desert in Sudan on October 7, 2008.

Later, dozens of fragments with a total weight of 8.7 pounds (3.95 kg) were recovered as the Almahata Sitta meteorite.

Meteor researcher Peter Jenniskens finds a fragment of meteorite dropped by asteroid 2008 TC3 in the desert in Sudan. Credit: Peter Jenniskens

Right now, signals from the global network of infrasound stations are being analyzed to see if they can be correlated with an impact. There are no visual sightings of the asteroid … Perhaps a surveillance satellite snagged it or we’ll hear of a airplane pilot seeing something. Stay tuned!

UPDATE Jan. 3: Three weak infrasound signals have been detected pointing to an impact near 12 degrees north, 40 degrees west latitude about 1,900 miles (3,000 km) east of Caracas, Venezuela in the Atlantic Ocean.

5 Responses

  1. What a stunning, out-of-the-box illustration of of the asteroid — from the asteroid’s vantage point! Kinda scary! πŸ˜€

    I also loved the photo of the 2008 asteroid fragments found in the desert. I bet those researchers were thrilled!

    1. astrobob

      Not only were the researchers thrilled but a German meteorite hunter connected with the scientists and now offers very small slices for sale of Almahata Sitta. I own a couple crumbs – amazing to touch and imagine its journey to Earth!

      1. I can imagine how thrilling it would be to own a couple of tiny pieces of it!

        I would probably make jewelry out of it so I could enjoy it (and show it off) more! πŸ™‚

        1. astrobob

          If you’re ever interested in a piece, talk to Anne Black at www.
          She’s a well-known, legitimate meteorite dealer.

  2. Richard Keen

    For us ephemeris readers, the 2014 AA ephemeris you linked to at the top of the story is every bit as exciting as the animation. Over the course of a day the thing hardly moves a degree against the background while getting brighter and brighter (i.e., bigger and bigger). You know what that means!
    That could be why the timing of the landing is uncertain – the track is known, but since we’re looking down the bore, we’re not as sure how far it has come along that track.
    It reminds me of some storm chasing wisdom – if the tornado is moving to the left or right, you’re OK (at least for the moment), but if it sits in one place while getting wider, well, consider your options.
    It also reminds me of Comet Hyakutake back in ’96, which sat in the same part of the sky for several weeks while it brightened to naked-eye and more, finally passing just a few million miles over the north pole.
    Thanks for posting this story so quickly. It’s great to hear about these events in near real time!

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