Earth will get a real-life brush with Armageddon tonight when an asteroid is due to collide with our atmosphere.
The space rock, detected only hours ago, is expected to burn up in a spectacular fireball over north Africa – early Tuesday morning local time.
But it is a chilling reminder of how little notice we might have of a meteor impact that could devastate the planet.
The asteroid that is expected to collide tonight was believed to be up to 15 ft wide. It was discovered today by a robotic skywatch, the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, on Mt Lemmon, Arizona.
Labelled 2008 TC3, it was observed to be travelling on an eastward trajectory that would carry it toward the Red Sea. Experts expected it to burn up in an incredible fireworks display over the Sudan.
Expert Don Yeomans, of NASA’s “Armageddon department, the Near-Earth Object Office, said: “Observers in the region could be in for quite a show. When the object enters the atmosphere, it could become an extremely bright fireball.
“This is the first time we have observed an impacting object during its final approach.”
It was thought unlikely that any sizable fragments would survive the fiery passage through Earth’s atmosphere, which was expected to occur at 5:46 a.m. local time – 3.46am UK time.
“We want to stress that this object is not a threat,” said Dr Timothy Spahr, director of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre.
“We’re excited since this is the first time we have issued a prediction that an object will enter Earth’s atmosphere,” Spahr added.
Update: Spaceweather.com reports that a Dutch KLM pilot saw the flash of the fireball from a position 750 miles south. You can see an image of the asteroid while still approaching Earth here.
Futher update: A photo from the ground has finally been found. It shows the trail, or “persistent train” left by the asteroid as it is twisted by high-altitude winds.
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