LINK: Astronomers catch a shooting star for 1st time
WASHINGTON – For the first time scientists matched a meteorite found on Earth with a specific asteroid that became a fireball plunging through the sky. It gives them a glimpse into the past when planets formed and an idea how to avoid a future asteroid Armageddon.
Last October, astronomers tracked a small non-threatening asteroid heading toward Earth before it became a "shooting star," something they had not done before. It blew up in the sky and scientists thought there would be noleft to examine.
But a painstaking search by dozens of students through the remote Sudan desert came up with 8.7 pounds of black jagged rocks, leftovers from the*snip* . And those dark rocks were full of surprises and minuscule diamonds, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature.
The asteroid, which mostly burned in the atmosphere 23 miles above the ground, is likely a leftover from when chunks of rock tried and failed to become a planet, about 4.5 billion years ago, scientists said.
"This is a look back in time and it came to us," said University of Maryland astronomer Lucy McFadden. She wasn't part of the study, but like four other outside experts praised the findings as important to the understanding of the solar system.
"It's a beautiful example of looking at an earlier stage of planet development that was arrested, halted," said NASA cosmic mineralogist Michael Zolensky, a co-author of the study.
But it also serves as a lesson for the future if this asteroid's big brother comes hurtling toward Earth.
Blowing it up like in the Bruce Willis movie "Armageddon" wouldn't be smart because this type of asteroid turns out to be very much like a "traveling sandpile," Zolensky said. "If you blow it up, all the pieces are heading toward Earth."
Instead, a spaceship-aided nudge would be more effective, said NASA Ames Research Center director Simon "Pete" Worden, another study co-author. He is a longtime advocate of a worldwide program to plan for the threat of asteroids and comets hitting Earth.
"The real important issue is to understand the physics of these objects," Worden said.
Let's hope they figure it out before a big one comes at us.