Astronomers are saying that a very small asteroid probably burned up harmlessly in our atmosphere just hours ago, after being discovered by astronomers on New Year’s Eve/Day (exact date depending on your time zone). They’ve labeled the object 2014 AA, because it’s the first asteroid to have been discovered this year. The Minor Planet Center announced that the asteroid – which was believed to be from about 1 to 5 meters across – struck Earth’s atmosphere at around 05:00 UTC today (January 2, 2014). That’s around midnight in the U.S. East. The asteroid is thought to have burned up over the Atlantic Ocean, probably off the coast of western Africa.
This is only the second time ever that astronomers were able to spot an asteroid before it struck Earth’s atmosphere. The first time was in 2008, when the object known as 2008 TC3 burned up over Sudan in Africa. Like 2014 AA, that object was discovered just a day before it entered Earth’s atmosphere.
Astronomers with the Mount Lemmon Survey used a 60-inch (150 cm) telescope in Arizona to spot 2014 AA on January 1, 2014 at 6:20 UTC (1:20 a.m. EST). A calculation of the asteroid’s orbit showed it was very close to Earth, and getting closer.
No harm done. But the event underscores the need to watch out for near-Earth asteroids.