NASA admitted that it was already too late when the agency detected an asteroid that was on a collision course with Earth. As a result, the asteroid breached Earth’s atmosphere and exploded somewhere over the Caribbean.

The asteroid that recently hit Earth was identified as 2019 MO, which had an estimated diameter of only 16 feet. It entered Earth’s atmosphere on June 29. Before colliding with Earth, NASA reported that it first spotted the asteroid more than 300,000 miles from the planet. According to the agency, the size of the asteroid made it almost impossible to detect.

“When first spotted, 2019 MO was about 310,000 miles from Earth – farther out than the orbit of our Moon,” NASA said in a statement. “This was roughly the equivalent of spotting something the size of a gnat from a distance of 310 miles.”

The space agency noted that the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere just hours after it was spotted. According to NASA, since the asteroid was only detected just hours before impact, the agency was not able to determine where it was going to hit.

Fortunately, due to the small size of the asteroid, it burned up in the atmosphere and exploded before hitting the ground. Reports indicated that the asteroid broke up and exploded somewhere over the Caribbean.

“They’re so small, they would not survive passing through our atmosphere to cause damage to Earth’s surface,” Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies said.

Farnocchia noted that NASA is mainly focused on finding large asteroids that are capable of causing significant damage to Earth upon impact. Aside from the threat posed by larger asteroids, finding these are much easier than detecting smaller ones. As a result, Earth is often pelted by small asteroids that usually burn up in the atmosphere.

Despite being protected by the atmosphere from tiny asteroids, NASA admitted that there is still a need for an improved system that detects and tracks space rocks of varying sizes. After all, as previous reports have shown, even small asteroids that explode in the atmosphere are still dangerous. One particular example is the meteor that exploded over Russian in 2013 and damaged over 7,000 buildings.

NASA Asteroid family Mars and Jupiter
This artist concept catastrophic collisions between asteroids located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter and how they have formed families of objects on similar orbits around the sun. NASA/JPL-Caltech