Preatmospheric Detection of a Meter-sized Earth ImpactorOPEN ACCESS 

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

This article has been submitted for publication in The Planetary Science Journal


Update: (8 June 2023):

The Planetary Science Journal, Volume 4, Number 6


“On 2020 September 18 U.S. Government (USG) sensors detected a bolide with peak bolometric magnitude of −19 over the Western Pacific. The impact was also detected by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper 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° east of north and an impact speed of 11.7 km s−1. Interpretation of all energy yields produces a preferred energy estimate of 0.4 kt TNT, corresponding to a 23,000 kg, 3 m diameter meteoroid. A postimpact search of telescopic images found that the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System survey captured the object just 10 minutes prior to impact at an Earth-centered distance of nearly 11,900 km 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 USG state-vector-based prediction of 1.26° over the 30 s 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 reported USG state vector confirm the object is likely natural. This is the eighth preatmospheric detection of a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) impactor and the closest initial telescopic detection prior to impact. The high altitude of peak fireball brightness suggests it was a weak object comparable in many respects with 2008 TC3 (the Almahata Sitta meteorite), with an absolute magnitude H = 32.5 and likely low albedo. Therefore, we suggest the NEA was a C-complex asteroid.”