Car-Sized Asteroid Crashes to Earth

Scientists have essentially caught a shooting star for the first time ever.

How? They matched a meteorite found on Earth with a specific asteroid that became a fireball plunging through the sky, giving them a glimpse into the past when planets formed and an idea of how to avoid a future asteroid Armageddon, reports The Associated Press.

This is what happened: In October 2008, a small asteroid the size of a car was heading straight toward Earth. For the first time ever, astronomers were able to track the non-threatening asteroid, named 2008 TC3, before it became a "shooting star" and watch as it blew up in the sky. Although they really thought there would be no space rocks or debris left from it, dozens of students trekked through the remote Sudan desert and found 8.7 pounds of black jagged rocks--the remains of asteroid 2008 TC3.

Guess what was in the rocks? In addition to a bunch of scientific surprises, it was covered with minuscule diamonds that made the rocks glitter like geodes! "This was a meteorite that was not in our collection, a completely new material," study lead author Peter Jenniskens of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told AP.

They think this asteroid is what was left when chunks of rock tried--but failed--to become a planet some 4.5 billion years ago. One astronomer called it a look back in time. Best of all, it essentially fell in their laps. "It's a beautiful example of looking at an earlier stage of planet development that was arrested, halted," NASA cosmic mineralogist Michael Zolensky, a co-author of the study, told AP.

The asteroid also has lessons for scientists who worry about a far larger piece of space rock crashing into our planet. For example, they've already learned that blowing it up won't work because it will be shredded into billions of pieces of sand that will head straight toward Earth. NASA is now thinking that a spaceship could be launched to nudge it aside. "The real important issue is to understand the physics of these objects," NASA Ames Research Center director Simon "Pete" Worden, another study co-author, told AP.

The study findings were published in the journal Nature.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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