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The asteroid 2014 AA disintegrated in Earth's atmosphere on New Year's Eve

on 06 January 2014

2014 started with the discovery of a new asteroid — 2014 AA, the first asteroid to be discovered in the new year. The Catalina Sky Survey Programme reported the asteroid to the International Astronomical Union on January 1, 2014 at 1 am Universal Time (Greenwich time).

The preliminary orbit calculated by two renowned independent computing centers for astronomy led to the conclusion that the object was only 500,000 kilometers away from Earth. The probability of collision with the Earth was very important for this imprecise orbit. However, it could not be accurately predicted where the object would enter Earth's atmosphere.

The entry into Earth's atmosphere occurred 22 hours after the moment of discovery. Thanks to the global network of infrasound detectors researchers could deduct that the object disintegrated somewhere in the equatorial area of the Atlantic Ocean, about 1300 km off the coast of Venezuela. The measurements show that the object released an energy of 500 - 1000 tons TNT. This energy corresponds to an asteroid with the size of 1-3 meters in diameter.

European astronomers are organized in a network at the level of the European Space Agency, and their activity is formalized under the European Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme. Details about the programme can be found here.

Mirel Birlan, Observatoire de Paris 77 av Denfert-Rochereau, 75014 Paris Cedex France

Image credit: JPL Horizons