Astronomers scanning the skies for asteroids that could hit Earth have found one, and it won't be long getting here. Near-Earth object (NEO) 8TA9D69 will strike the atmosphere over Sudan tonight at 0246 UTC, 5:46 a.m. local time, according to calculations by celestial dynamicist Steven Chesley of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Not to worry. Despite packing a punch equivalent to 1000 tons of TNT, the approximate 2-meter-diameter rock-- discovered last night during a sky-survey program conducted by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Observatory--will break up in the atmosphere in a fiery display called a bolide. "The damage on the ground is expected to be zero," writes astronomer Andrea Milan of the University of Pisa in Italy, on the Minor Planet Mailing List run for asteroid and comet researchers (groups.yahoo.com/group/mpml/).
"This is the first time an asteroid impact has been predicted," writes planetary astronomer David Morrison in his NEO News e-mail newsletter. The discovery reflects the increasing capability of the worldwide watch for NEOs, he says, which in this case was smoothly coordinated through the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For the first time, humans need not look up in surprise at a bit of out-there falling down here.