STUNNED astronomers watched as an asteroid hit the Earth's atmosphere and fell to ground, before they collected samples in an historic first.
Star-gazers watched a car-sized asteroid explode into a brilliant meteor shower as it crashed into Earth's atmosphere, then wandered into a Sudanese desert to pick up the pieces, a study reports.
It was the first time ever that scientists recovered fragments from an asteroid detected in space, according to the study, published in the British journal Nature this week.
"Any number of meteorites have been observed as fireballs and smoking meteor trails as they come through the atmosphere," said co-author Douglas Rumble, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution.
"But to actually see this object before it gets to the Earth's atmosphere and then follow it in -- that's the unique thing."
The drama unfolded like an overheated Hollywood script, according to a reconstruction of the event by Nature.