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A small meteorite hit the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, on September 6, government officials say.

Residents reported hearing a loud bang and feeling the impact, which left a crater 40ft wide and 16ft deep.

Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said the meteorite seemed to have broken off an asteroid which was passing close to Earth.

Rosario Murillo said international experts had been called in to investigate further.

No-one was hurt when it hit the wooded area near the international airport and an air force base.

An adviser to Nicaragua’s Institute of Earth Studies (INETER), Wilfried Strauch, said he was “convinced it was a meteorite” which caused the impact.

A small meteorite hit Managua on September 6

A small meteorite hit Managua on September 6

Experts studying the crater said it was not clear whether the meteorite had disintegrated upon impact or had been blasted into soil.

Locals said they heard a large blast just before midnight local time and reported a burning smell.

“We thought it was a bomb because we felt an expansive wave,” Jorge Santamaria told Associated Press news agency.

INETER scientist Jose Millan said that “we need to celebrate the fact that it fell in an area where, thank God, it didn’t cause any danger to the population”.

Managua, which has more than a million inhabitants is densely populated.

“All the evidence that we’ve confirmed at the site corresponds exactly with a meteorite and not with any other type of event,” he said.

“We have the seismic register which coincides with the time of impact, and the typical characteristic that it produces a cone in the place of impact,” he added.

Astronomer Humberto Saballos said the meteorite could have broken off from the 2014RC asteroid which passed Earth at the same time.

2014RC, which is the size of a house, came closest to earth at 18:18 GMT on Sunday, when it passed over New Zealand at a distance of about 25,000 miles.

The asteroid was first discovered on 31 August and, at its closest approach, was about one-tenth of the distance from the centre of Earth to the Moon, NASA said in a statement.

It is expected to orbit near Earth again in the future.

In February 2013, a meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk in Central Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people.

NASA currently tracks more than 11,000 asteroids in orbits that pass relatively close to Earth.

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Apophis, a 300m-wide asteroid, is making a close pass to the Earth.

Apophis – named after the Egyptian demon of destruction and darkness – has been put on a watch list by scientists.

They have calculated that in 2036 there is a very small chance it could collide with our planet.

However, its current fly-by is at a safe distance of about 14 million km – but this is close enough for astronomers to study the space rock and assess its future risk.

Asteroid 99942 Apophis will not be visible with the naked eye, but space enthusiasts can watch it online via the Slooh space camera’s website.

The large rocky mass was first discovered in 2004. At the time, it raised alarm when scientists calculated that it had a one-in-45 chance of smashing into the Earth in 2029.

Later revisions, lifted this threat; instead on the Friday 13 April 2029, it will make a close pass at a distance of about 30,000km.

However, astronomers say there is still a one-in-200,000 chance that it could strike Earth in 2036.

Apophis, a 300m-wide asteroid, is making a close pass to the Earth

Apophis, a 300m-wide asteroid, is making a close pass to the Earth

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, said: “In 2029, it will pass so close to us that Earth’s gravity will change its orbit.

“Most of the potential orbits it will end up on will mean we are safe for the next 100 years. But there is a small region of space – something we call a keyhole – and if it passes through that keyhole in 2029, it will come back and hit us on 13 April in 2036.”

If this happened, it would strike the Earth with 100 times the energy in our largest nuclear bombs, said Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons.

Astronomers are using the current close encounter as an opportunity to study the asteroid, so they can improve their calculations to predict its future path.

Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons said: “While [the asteroid] is relatively close to the Earth, astronomers can ping it with radar. Radar measurements are incredibly accurate: we get the distance to the asteroid very, very precisely, and we can also get its velocity relative to us. And these two things let us pin its orbit down very precisely.”

Researchers are becoming increasingly interested in potentially hazardous asteroids.

So far they have counted more than 9,000 near-Earth asteroids, and they spot another 800 new space rocks on average each year.

Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons said learning more about them was vital.

“At some point, we are going to find an asteroid big enough that it could cause damage at ground level if we let it hit,” he explained.

“So we should find these objects, we should track them, work out where they are going – and if they stand a chance of hitting us, do something about it.”

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