Exoatmospheric Detection Of A Meter-sized Earth Impactor

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
September 14, 2022
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Exoatmospheric Detection Of A Meter-sized Earth Impactor
An illustration of the Earth’s shadow alignment at the time of image capture. The umbral shadow is shown in dark gray. The penumbral shadow is imperceptibly larger than the umbral at such close proximity to the Earth. The gray circle is the upper ”limit” of LEO orbits at HLEO = 2000 km. The red wedge is the the volume of space covered by the image. The irregular green area is the predicted uncertainty of the object, The numbered blue lines in both the main image and inset represent the motions of all tracked artificial objects in the field of view of the image, with their NORAD TLE numbers. Within the field of the image, any object inside the LEO-limit, and substantially further, are in the Earth’s shadow and would not be visible in the image. Only three tracked objects are within the image field, and only one of them (26583) is outside the Earth’s shadow and is visible.

On 2020 September 18 US Government sensors detected a bolide with peak bolometric magnitude of -19 over the western Pacific. The impact was also detected by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument on the GOES-17 satellite and infrasound sensors in Hawaii.

The USG measurements reported a steep entry angle of 67∘ from horizontal from a radiant 13∘ E of N and an impact speed of 11.7 km/s. Interpretation of all energy yields produces a preferred energy estimate of 0.4 KT TNT, corresponding to a 23,000 kilogram 3 meter diameter meteoroid. A post-impact search of telescopic images found that the ATLAS survey captured the object just 10 minutes prior to impact at an Earth-centred distance of nearly 11,900 kilometers with apparent magnitude m=12.5.

The object appears as a 0.44∘ streak originating on the eastern edge of the image extending one-third of the predicted (based on the CNEOS state vector) 1.26∘ over the 30 second exposure. The streak shows brightness variability consistent with small asteroid rotation. The position of Earth’s shadow, the object’s size, and its consistency with the CNEOS state vector confirm the object is likely natural.

This is the sixth exoatmospheric detection of an NEA impactor and the closest initial telescopic detection prior to an impact. The high altitude of peak fireball brightness suggest it was a weak object comparable in many respects with 2008 TC3 (Almahatta Sitta meteorite), with an absolute magnitude of H=32.5 and likely low albedo. Therefore we suggest the NEA as having been a C-complex asteroid.

David L. Clark, Paul A. Wiegert, Peter G. Brown, Denis Vida, Aren Heinze, Larry Denneau

Comments: 24 pages, 11 figures. This article has been submitted for publication in The Planetary Science Journal
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:2209.04583 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2209.04583v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: David Clark
[v1] Sat, 10 Sep 2022 03:36:18 UTC (11,254 KB)

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