A small asteroid that hit Botswana took 23 million years to get here from the asteroid belt, astronomers found

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Fragment of asteroid 2018 LA recovered in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in central Botswana.

  • Astronomers have uncovered fragments of a 6-foot-wide asteroid that struck Botswana in 2018.
  • According to a new study of those fragments, the space rock originated from the asteroid belt.
  • Scientists estimate the asteroid’s journey across the solar system took nearly 23 million years.
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In the early hours of June 2, 2018, astronomers at the University of Arizona saw a faint dot of light moving across the sky.

It was an asteroid, which loomed larger and larger as it approached Earth. A few hours later, the 6-foot-wide space rock – named 2018 LA – caught fire as it roared through the atmosphere at a blistering 38,000 miles per hour. It broke into tiny fragments that rained down across Botswana.

A group of researchers raced to the end of that fireball’s path to hunt for the rare fragments, since they held clues about the asteroid’s origins.

“This is only the second time we have spotted an asteroid in space before it hit Earth over land,” Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, said in a press release.

Jenniskens’ team eventually found 23 pieces of the asteroid in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. According to a new study from the group, an analysis of those fragments showed that 2018 LA was actually a piece of a larger asteroid called Vesta, which is the brightest and second-largest asteroid in our solar system.

By dating the elements inside the asteroid fragments, Jenniskens’ team determined that the space rock had been traveling for nearly 23 million years after it broke off Vesta.

‘A national treasure of Botswana’

vesta fragment botswana 2018 LA
Astronomers gather around a piece of asteroid 2018 LA recovered in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in central Botswana.

Jenniskens’ team almost struck out in their first hunt for asteroid fragments. But five days in, on their last day searching in the game reserve, the group found their first meteorite just 100 feet from their camp. (Asteroids that reach Earth’s surface are called meteorites.)

It was just over an inch long and weighed 18 grams, he said.

“The meteorite is named ‘Motopi Pan’ after a local watering hole,” Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, a researcher from the Botswana Geoscience Institute who co-authored the study, said in the release. “This meteorite is a national treasure of Botswana.”

During a second expedition in October 2018, the team found the other 22 meteorite pieces.

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An artist’s concept of an asteroid belt.

The researchers analyzed the metal content and make-up of those fragments, and determined that they belong to a class of meteorites called Howardite-Eucrite-Diogenite (HED) meteorites. This whole group likely originated from Vesta, in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

According to the study authors, one-third of all HED meteorites found on Earth broke off of Vesta nearly 23 million years ago, when it was struck by another space object. They think that’s true of this asteroid, too.

asteroid vesta
The asteroid Vesta in space.

The fragments’ composition also offers hints about Vesta’s violent past. An examination of the minerals inside Motopi Pan suggest the rock melted and reformed twice: 4.6 billion years ago then 4.2 billion years ago.

“Billions of years ago, two giant impacts on Vesta created a family of larger, more dangerous asteroids,” Jenniskens said. “The newly recovered meteorites gave us a clue on when those impacts might have happened.”

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Video shows NRA’s Wayne LaPierre shooting but failing to kill an elephant for NRA-sponsored TV show that never aired

In this April 26, 2019, file photo, Nation Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at the association’s Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

  • A newly released video shows NRA head LaPierre shooting an endangered elephant on a 2013 hunting trip.
  • LaPierre repeatedly fails to kill the animal from close range; his guide eventually makes the kill.
  • LaPierre’s wife, Susan, kills another elephant with ease and is filmed cutting off the animal’s tail.
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As executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre has cultivated a careful image as the paragon of gun rights activism in America. But a nearly decade-old video obtained by The Trace and published in partnership with The New Yorker suggests LaPierre’s skill with a rifle may be lacking.

LaPierre and his wife, Susan, traveled to Botswana’s Okavango Delta in 2013, on a mission to boost the NRA’s reputation among hunters, a demographic crucial to the organization’s base. A crew from the NRA-sponsored TV series, “Under Wild Skies,” came along to capture the NRA chief executive’s big game hunting adventures in the African bush, according to The New Yorker.

But the program never aired due to concerns the footage could cause a public relations crisis, the outlet reported.

Now, eight years later, footage from the hunt has been published, displaying LaPierre’s inability to kill the largest land mammal on Earth from close range and highlighting his wife’s apparently superior marksmanship.

The nine-minute video begins with LaPierre walking through the bush, dressed for a safari and accompanied by multiple professional hunting guides as well as Tony Makris, a longtime public relations advisor to LaPierre who is also the host of “Under Wild Skies.”

One of the guides sees an elephant behind a tree. LaPierre readies himself to take a shot as the guide repeatedly tells him to wait. But LaPierre is wearing earplugs and misses the guide’s instructions. He shoots and the animal falls.

“Did we get him?” LaPierre says.

The guide says yes, but as the group moves closer to the fallen African bush elephant, a species declared endangered earlier this year, the guide repositions LaPierre within a few meters to take a final shot at the still-breathing animal.

Then begins a nearly two-minute failed endeavor by LaPierre to kill the motionless animal. LaPierre fires three shots, each time failing to hit his mark and each time being instructed by the guide on how to re-adjust.

“I’m not sure where you’re shooting,” the guide says to LaPierre.

He responds by saying, “Where are you telling me to shoot?”

Eventually, the guide instructs Makris to finish the animal instead. He shoots and kills the elephant with ease.

In the latter half of the footage, LaPierre’s wife, Susan, gets her shot at the same prize.

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An African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is feeding on the vegetation in the Jao concession, Wildlife, Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Susan and her guides approach two elephants in the bush and whisper about how to proceed. The guide instructs Susan to aim between the animal’s eyes. She cocks her rifle and shoots. The bullet goes dead center in the elephant’s head as it drops to the ground.

Another guide congratulates her on appearing to kill the elephant with a single bullet. With the help of a guide, she fires one more bullet into the animal to be sure.

Following the kill, Susan responds by hugging her guides. “You can see how old he is. And lots of wrinkles,” she says, examining the dead elephant.

With her guide’s help, Susan cuts off part of the elephant’s tail, a ritual hunters do to claim the kill in “olden days,” according to the guide.

She holds the bloody tail up for the camera, smiles, and says, “victory!”

The NRA did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Even though the LaPierre’s hunting footage never aired, The New Yorker reported that records show the couple still obtained proof of their hunting exploits: Body parts from the two elephants were shipped to the US “in a hidden manner,” at Susan’s written request, according to the outlet.

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