Was This Impact Crater In Nicaragua Made By A Meteorite? Experts Doubtful On Origins

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Nicaraguan officials reported Sunday that the impact of a small meteorite had left a nearly 40-foot crater near the airport of the capital city of Managua, but US scientists are casting doubts on those claims.
According to an Associated Press (AP) report published Sunday night, Nicaraguan spokeswoman Rosario Murillo explained that a committee formed by the government to study the incident determined the 16-foot deep crater was caused by a “relatively small” meteorite which appeared to have “come off an asteroid that was passing close to Earth.”
Humberto Saballos, a volcanologist with the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies and a member of the committee, told the AP the impact crater had a radius of 12 meters and a depth of five meters. Saballos also said that it was unclear if the meteorite itself was buried or disintegrated.
Humberto Garcia of the Astronomy Center at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua added that the meteorite could be related to 2014 RC, a small asteroid that passed approximately 22,000 miles from the Earth’s surface over New Zealand early Sunday morning. However, he said further study was needed “because it could be ice or rock.”
However, Dan Vergano of National Geographic reports that outside experts have downplayed any possible association with 2014 RC. In fact, MIT asteroid researchers Richard Binzel told Vergano via email that, while information on the Nicaraguan impact was “limited,” the “miss distance of 2014 RC actually precludes any related meteorite impact.”
“This event was separated by 13 hours from the close Earth approach of 2014 RC, so the explosion and the asteroid are unrelated,” because the planet moves approximately 870,000 miles in that time, explained NASA’s Don Yeomans, author of the book ‘Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us.’
“There was no obvious optical fireball or debris trail seen prior to the explosion, so it seems unlikely that the explosion in Nicaragua was related to a meteorite impact,” he added.
Even so, CNN.com writer Amanda Barnett said local media reports claim scientists are still searching for remains of the meteorite, and that Nicaraguan officials are asking the US to aid in the investigation.
Thus far, however, Jose Millan with the Nicaraguan Institute of Earth Studies said “all the evidence that we’ve confirmed on-site corresponds exactly with a meteorite.” Even if a meteorite was involved, the evidence clearly seems to suggest that 2014 RC did not play a role in the impact.
According to NASA, astronomers used the reflective brightness of 2014 RC to estimate it was approximately 60 feet (20 meters) in size. The asteroid was initially discovered on August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Maui, Hawaii.
Its orbit was confirmed by follow-up observations conducted by the Catalina Sky Survey and the University of Hawaii 88-inch (2.2-meter) telescope on Mauna Kea. At the time of its nearest approach, 2014 RC had an apparent magnitude of about 11.5, which made it undetectable by the naked eye.
The asteroid passed below Earth and the geosynchronous ring of communications and weather satellites orbiting about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above our planet’s surface. However, officials at the US space agency said that they were confident it posed no threat to the Earth or any of its orbiting probes.