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Asteroid spotted 2 hours before it struck Earth

Astronomers were able to predict where an asteroid was going to hit Earth's atmosphere even though they didn't see it until two hours beforehand.

An asteroid hit Earth's atmosphere last Friday. Astronomers were able to precisely determine where it was going to strike. And despite seeing it just two hours before impact, its small size meant it posed little danger to the planet.

An observer at the Piszkéstető Observatory in northern Hungary first spotted the 6 1/2-foot wide space rock named 2022 EB5, NASA said Tuesday. From there, NASA’s Scout impact hazard assessment system took over to determine where 2022 EB5 would hit. 

“Scout had only 14 observations over 40 minutes from one observatory to work with when it first identified the object as an impactor. We were able to determine the possible impact locations, which initially extended from western Greenland to off the coast of Norway,” Davide Farnocchia, A Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer who developed Scout said in a statement.

EarthSky.org reported the asteroid was traveling at 11 miles per second. For comparison, Earth orbits the sun at 18 miles per second.

Scout eventually determined that 2022 EB5 would hit southwest of the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, about 300 miles east of Greenland and northeast of Iceland. Impact with the atmosphere happened at 5:23 p.m. EST Friday, NASA said.

All or most of the asteroid likely vaporized after hitting the atmosphere, EarthSky reported.

It's the fifth time since 2008 that a small asteroid has been detected before impact, NASA said. While asteroids as small as 2022 EB5 are hard to detect, NASA said they tend to hit Earth's atmosphere about once every 10 months. 

“But very few of these asteroids have actually been detected in space and observed extensively prior to impact, basically because they are very faint until the last few hours, and a survey telescope has to observe just the right spot of sky at the right time for one to be detected," Paul Chodas, the director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies said in a statement.

NASA said larger asteroids with higher potential for impact are discovered sooner, giving astronomers a chance to compute their trajectories to determine if they will be future threats.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission is currently underway with a spacecraft headed to the binary asteroid Didymos. The goal is to see if the smaller of the two asteroids can be deflected by crashing into it. That should happen in September or October.

At 6 1/2 feet in diameter, the space rock was roughly the size of another rock -- 6 feet, 5-inch Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. For another comparison, The Daily Mail said it was half the size of a giraffe -- but it was going off a report that the asteroid was a little larger at 10-feet wide.

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