London, Feb 20 (ANI): Scientists have, for the first time, detected a space rock ahead of a collision with Earth, watched it streak through the atmosphere, and then recovered pieces of it.
An analysis of the meteorites could shed light on conditions in the early solar system more than 4 billion years ago.
When the asteroid, called 2008 TC3, was discovered on 6 October last year, it was just 20 hours away from hitting Earth.
Though the warning period was short, it was the first time a space rock had been found before it impacted the planet.
Orbital calculations predicted the object would plunge into the atmosphere above Sudan at 0246 GMT on 7 October, and it arrived right on time.
Observations suggested it was no more than 5 meters across, too small to survive intact all the way to the ground and cause damage.
The brilliant fireball it made as it descended through the atmosphere was seen far in the distance by the crew of a KLM airliner, and was observed by various satellites, including a weather satellite called Meteosat-8.
Now, according to a report in New Scientist, a team of meteorite hunters has found fragments of the object.
The meteorites are a unique group in that they come from an object seen hurtling through space before its plunge into Earth's atmosphere.
Students from the University of Khartoum found the first fragments, led by Dr Muawia Shaddad, using data provided by NASA to hone in on where fragments were likely to be found.
Lindley Johnson, head of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program office at the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC, reported the find in Vienna, at a United Nations meeting discussing near-Earth object (NEO) impacts.
Donald Yeomans, who manages NASA's efforts to find and track NEOs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, confirmed that "quite a few" fragments have been found.
Before the fragments were found, meteorite expert Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario in Canada said that the asteroid was likely made of relatively weak material, given that 2008 TC3 broke up unusually quickly once it hit the atmosphere, exploding about 37 kilometers above ground.
According to researchers, the 2008 TC3 meteorites could be especially illuminating because the parent object was observed in space before the breakup, allowing scientists to calculate its former orbit around the Sun.
This provides precious information connecting the meteorites to their place of origin in the solar system. (ANI)