How Showering Meteorites Scattered Across the Kalahari Desert

Astronomers have reconstructed the 22m-year-long voyage of an asteroid that hurtled through the solar system and exploded over Botswana. It is the first time scientists have traced showering space rock to its source – in this case Vesta, one of largest bodies in the asteroid belt that circles the sun between Jupiter and Mars. The six-tonne asteroid punched into Earth’s atmosphere at 37,000mph in June 2018 and broke apart above the central Kalahari game reserve, creating a fireball nearly as bright as the sun. Immediate searches of the presumed landing site found a small meteorite, which was named Motopi Pan. NASA researchers had tracked the hazardous object from as far out as the moon using telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii. After the impact they asked astronomers in Australia to check images from the SkyMapper telescope in New South Wales – used for studying black holes and the like – in case it too had captured the asteroid’s flight path. Much to the researchers’ amazement, it had. The snapshots of the asteroid, named 2018LA, from three telescopes set far apart on the Earth’s surface allowed the astronomers to reconstruct the rock’s trajectory and pinpoint its origin. The trail led to Vesta, a 300-mile-wide asteroid that is occasionally visible without a telescope.


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