Early Wednesday morning January 1st, while New Year’s 2014 celebrations were still underway in the United States, the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, AZ, collected a single track of observations with an immediate follow-up on what was possibly a very small asteroid 2-3 meters in size on a potential impact trajectory with the Earth.
Designated 2014 AA, which would make it the first asteroid discovery of 2014, the track of observations on the object allowed only an uncertain orbit to be calculated. However if this was a very small asteroid on an Earth impacting trajectory, it most likely hit the Earth’s atmosphere last night sometime between 2 pm Wednesday and 9 am Thursday EST.
Using the only available observations, three independent projections of the possible orbit by the independent orbit analyst Bill Gray, the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, MA, and Steve Chesley at the NASA NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are in agreement that it would hit Earths atmosphere. According to Chesley, because of the orbit uncertainty the potential impact locations are widely distributed, falling along an arc extending from Central America to East Africa with the best-fit, most likely impact location to be just off the coast of West Africa at about 9 pm EST January 1st.
2014 AA was unlikely to have survived atmospheric entry intact, as it was comparable in size to 2008 TC3 - about 2-3 meters which completely broke up over northern Sudan in October 2008, the only other example of an object discovered just prior to hitting the Earth. So far, there have been a few weak signals collected from infrasound stations in that region of the world that are being analyzed to see if they could be correlated to the atmospheric entry of 2014 AA.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.