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Reports of Meteorite Strike in Nicaragua and a Size Update for Asteroid 2014 RC

NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office
September 8, 2014
Updated: September 11, 2014

Position of Asteroid 2014 RC and any possible associated debris at time of the Nicaragua explosion.
Position of Asteroid 2014 RC and any possible associated debris at time of the Nicaragua explosion.

Reports in the media over the weekend that a small meteorite impacted in Nicaragua have yet to be confirmed. A loud explosion was heard near Managua's international airport Saturday night, and photos of a 12-meter (40-foot) crater have been circulated. As yet, no eyewitness accounts or imagery have come to light of the fireball flash or debris trail that is typically associated with a meteor of the size required to produce such a crater. Since the explosion in Nicaragua occurred a full 13 hours before the close passage of asteroid 2014 RC, these two events are unrelated.

As predicted, the small asteroid 2014 RC flew safely past the Earth at 18:01 UT (2:01 pm EDT, 11:01 am PDT) on September 7 at a distance of 33,550 km (20,800 miles) above the Earth's surface. Astronomers around the world took the opportunity to observe this fairly rare event, and learned that the asteroid is rather small and is spinning very rapidly.

R. P. Binzel, D. Polishook (MIT) and S. J. Bus (Univ. Hawaii) observed 2014 RC from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Sept. 6 in near-infrared wavelengths. From their spectra, they conclude that the asteroid belongs to the "Sq-class", which has an average albedo (reflectivity) of 24%.

Following up on this preliminary result, A. Thirouin, B. Skiff, and N. Moskovitz (Lowell Observatory) analyzed the brightness variations of 2014 RC across multiple nights using Lowell Observatory' 1.1m Hall telescope, Lowell's 4.3m Discovery Channel Telescope and NASA's IRTF. These data indicate a best fit rotation period of about 15.8 seconds, and a low light curve amplitude of ~0.1 magnitude. This is the fastest rotating asteroid observed to date, nearly nine seconds faster than the previous recored holder, which was 2010 JL88 with a period of 24.6 seconds. A subset of these images have been combined into an movie which can be downloaded here:

http://www2.lowell.edu/users/nmosko/2014RC_flyby.gif

Image of Asteroid 2014 RC taken from Lowell Observatory
Image of Asteroid 2014 RC taken from Lowell Observatory. Click on image to see animation.

Lance Benner and Marina Brozovic, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, meanwhile, reported that radar observations of 2014 RC taken at the Goldstone site in southern California on September 6-7 were weaker than expected due to an extreme Doppler broadening of the radar echoes. The radar broadening was observed to be about 500 Hz, so assuming a 15.8 seconds rotation rate, 2014 RC has a minimum equatorial extent of 22 meters (72 feet).

The radar size estimate is larger than the IRTF estimate of 12 meters, which assumed a spherical body with an albedo of 24%. These disparate size estimates are only preliminary, but might suggest a highly elongated body.

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