Small asteroid detected explodes in the sky above South Africa

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — An asteroid exploded in the sky over Africa this past weekend, but scientists say it's not an unusual occurrence.

This chunk of space rock, however, was actually detected hours before hit the Earth's atmosphere. This is only the third time an asteroid was detected before it made impact.

Two security cameras captured the asteroid as it crashed through the sky.

"Asteroids come in all sizes, larger ones can be 1,000 kilometers across, about 1/3 the size of the moon," Astronomer from Brown University Ian Dell'Antonio said. "The smallest ones are little chunks of rock."

He said this asteroid was seen by the Catalina Sky Survey, a program funded by NASA, in Arizona. 

Every night, the sky gets mapped, looking for fast moving objects and calculating their paths. Dell'Antonio said if it was daytime, the survey wouldn't have seen it, so it was a lucky coincidence it was spotted.

"In this case, the programs that are monitoring for larger and really dangerous bits of rock actually spotted this thing (hours) before it hit the Earth's atmosphere," Dell'Antonio said.

According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the object was first discovered when it was about as far away as the moon.

The asteroid made impact into the earth's atmosphere at about 12:44 p.m. on June 2, at a speed of 38,000 mph over South Africa. No damage or injuries were reported, but small meteorites could possibly be found on the ground. The rock was estimated to be between 2-3 meters across, and objects of this size, according to Dell'Antonio, burn up in the upper atmosphere. The asteroid likely came from the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. 

Sky survey work is extremely important in protecting the planet from real threats.

Dell'Antonio said another sky survey telescope is currently being built in Chile. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is partially funded by the United States and is expected to come online in a couple years.

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