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Scientists Glimpse Incoming Asteroid Just Hours Before It Makes Impact

Astronomers were able to see an asteroid before it collided with Earth for only the sixth time in recorded history.

Nearly four hours prior to impact, on November 19, 2022, the Catalina Sky Survey found an asteroid with the designation 2022 WJ1 travelling inward. When the asteroid was about to strike the earth, precise calculations were made using a network of observatories and scientists.

This is fantastic news. The asteroid 2022 WJ1 was too tiny to cause much harm, but its discovery demonstrates that asteroid monitoring methods are becoming more effective globally, giving us a greater chance of defending ourselves against larger space rocks that may potentially cause harm.

Even if most of space is not actually space, there is still a lot of it. Asteroids that circle the Sun in a way that puts them near to Earth's orbit make up the majority of the not-space in the area around the Earth. Near-Earth asteroids are what we call them, and as of this writing, 30,656 of them have been identified.

The majority of these asteroids are really rather tiny, and researchers are sure that we have located almost all of those that are large enough to pose a substantial risk, researched them, and decided that none of them will approach Earth close enough within the next century to constitute a concern.


However, it's vital to keep track of what's going on in the area around us and develop our ability to spot cunning rocks planning to make a grand entry.

On November 19, 2022, at 04:53 UTC, the Mount Lemmon Observatory, a component of the Catalina network, made the discovery of 2022 WJ1. It kept tracking the object and captured four photographs that helped astronomers confirm the discovery. At 05:38 UTC, it reported the discovery to the IAU Minor Planet Center.


Four photos were sufficient to determine the asteroid's course across the sky, and numerous impact monitoring algorithms determined that the rock had a 20% probability of crashing somewhere on the continent of North America.

Scientists were able to improve their data by making additional observations that provided a time and place. On schedule, 2022 WJ1 was spotted speeding across the sky as a bright green fireball at 08:27 UTC above the Golden Horseshoe area in Southern Ontario, Canada.


The rock was not dangerous, despite being the first anticipated meteor to ever pass over a heavily populated region at the time of the discovery. The tiniest asteroid ever seen before atmospheric impact, it was roughly one metre (3.3 feet) wide when it entered Earth's atmosphere.

It then disintegrated into smaller bits that largely landed in Lake Ontario's water as it dropped to Earth as a fiery bolide. The smallest fragments of the meteorite should be the most easily found; scientists are expecting to recover some of these to advance their understanding of the asteroid.


2008 TC3, which was about 4 metres across, 2014 AA, which was about 3 metres across, 2018 LA, which was also about three metres across, 2019 MO, which was about 6 metres across, and 2022 EB5, which was about 2 metres wide, were the last five asteroids identified before impact.

The discovery of 2022 WJ1 and the international cooperation that followed it are a magnificent demonstration of how sensitive technology has become and the marvel of human collaboration to comprehend renegade space pebbles.


Of course, such observations offer a unique chance to learn more about what happens to asteroids when they approach Earth's atmosphere.

"This fireball is especially noteworthy since the parent meteoroid was seen up close before it entered the atmosphere. This is a unique chance to correlate an asteroid's telescopic data with its atmospheric breakdown behaviour to learn more about its interior structure "says University of Western Ontario physicist and astronomer Peter Brown.


This extraordinary occurrence will provide information about the composition and strength that, when paired with telescopic observations, will further our grasp of how tiny asteroids fragment in the atmosphere, a crucial piece of information for planetary defence.

The debris from 2022 WJ1 should have a grayer stony interior, a thin and new fusion layer, and a black appearance. Any fragments that are questionable should be submitted to the Royal Ontario Museum, according to scientists.

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