Asteroid 2014 RC Makes Astronomers’ Heads Spin / Crater Appears In Nicaragua

Multiple images of asteroid 2014 RC made with the Lowell Observatory 42-inch Hall telescope showing its motion on September 7, 2014.

Not only did it make a very close approach to Earth yesterday, but astronomers got a better handle on 2014 RC’s size and how fast it spins during the flyby.

The space rock was originally thought to be 60-feet (20-m) across but we now know it’s closer to 40-feet (12-m) or about the size of a school bus and spinning very rapidly. Try one rotation every 15.8 seconds!

That makes 2014 RC the fastest rotating asteroid (by 50%) observed to date. Astronomers using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on September 6 observed the space rock in infrared light to determine its composition. It reflects about much light (25%) as green grass and belongs to the “Sq class” of stony asteroids. Rocky asteroids are the most common kind. Based on its reflectivity, 2014 RC is much brighter than a typical comet and several other classes of asteroids.

The suspect crater near the Managua airport. Credit: AP

In a story begging to be related but isn’t, a purported meteor crater showed up near Managua, Nicaragua’s international airport this weekend. Whatever caused  it, the blast occurred during the early morning of September 6th, 13 hours before 2014 RC’s close flyby, which passed beneath Earth’s orbit anyway. A loud bang was heard and the ground shook, but there are no eyewitness reports or video of a meteor or meteorite fall. The crater is about 40 feet (12-m) across.

The surest way to confirm if a meteorite fell would be to look for fragments in and around the crater. No news yet on that. I’ll update when more information becomes available.

4 Responses

  1. Charles Fries

    I wonder if it is possible the pebble sized meteorite that fell in Nicaragua had been in orbit around 2014 RC. Just a thought.

    1. astrobob

      Charles,
      If a meteorite did make the crater it would have to be quite a big bigger than a pebble, but that aside, 2014 RC’s orbit is very different from something that would land in Nicaragua. Just like the Chelyabinsk fireball that happened within a day or so of a close passage of another Earth-approaching asteroid back in 2013, it was coincidence. Their orbits were also entirely different. Of course we still don’t even know if what made the crater was a meteorite. No sightings have been reported.

  2. Ralph Aguirre

    This is the second time now, were we have seen a second meteor traveling along with a first larger one. This happened during the recent Russian meteor, where one flew by, and a second one impacted Earth.
    Having happened twice now, its only logical that these are fragments of the larger one that have broken off but still traveling along the same trajectory as the first one and being small enough to be pulled into the earth for an impact.

    Ralph in Sacramento

    1. astrobob

      Hi Ralph,
      The Chelyabinsk meteoroid and 2014 DA14 were completely different objects on very different orbital paths. They weren’t related despite the natural human tendency to connect them. As for the Managua “impact” it’s almost certainly not a meteorite impact. There’s no evidence in the form of meteorites, no video and no sightings in spite of occurring on a Saturday night over a city of more than a million people. There was a scientist out there today or yesterday to check it out, but he was a biologist and would not be expected to know the difference between meteorites and Earth rocks. The photos I’ve seen of stones from the crater look like limestone or something, not meteorites. Still waiting for a definitive explanation, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s meteorite-caused. Every day, Earth gets peppered with 100 tons of meteoroids. Granted, much of it’s dust and small gravel, but large pieces come down, too.

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