Record-Breaking Asteroid Explodes Over Berlin

A small asteroid, 2024 BX1, entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up over Berlin, Germany, producing a harmless fireball. The asteroid, measuring about 1 meter wide, was detected just three hours before impact and set a record for the fastest-spinning asteroid ever observed.

author-image
Trim Correspondents
New Update
Record-Breaking Asteroid Explodes Over Berlin

Record-Breaking Asteroid Explodes Over Berlin

On January 21, 2024, a small asteroid, dubbed 2024 BX1, entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up in the skies above Berlin, Germany, producing a harmless fireball. This event marks only the eighth time an asteroid has been spotted before impacting Earth.

Why this matters: The detection of 2024 BX1 highlights the importance of asteroid tracking efforts, as it showcases the potential risks and consequences of undetected asteroids. Improving our ability to detect and track near-Earth asteroids is crucial for preventing potential threats to human life and infrastructure.

The asteroid, measuring about 1 meter wide, was discovered by Hungarian astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky approximately three hours before its impact. NASA confirmed the discovery about 20 minutes before the asteroid entered the atmosphere, traveling at a blistering speed of 31,000 mph (50,000 km/h).

What sets 2024 BX1 apart is its record-breaking rotational speed of 2.6 seconds per rotation, making it the fastest-spinning asteroid ever observed. "They have internal strength, so they can rotate faster," said lead author Maxime Devogèle, a physicist at the University of Central Florida who works with the European Space Agency.

The asteroid's rotation period was measured by analyzing the distance between bright spots along its trail, which corresponded to a rotation time of 2.588 seconds. This means the asteroid rotated around 33,000 times per day. Researchers believe that smaller asteroids like 2024 BX1 tend to spin faster than larger ones due to their compact size and internal strength.

Prior to 2024 BX1, the fastest-spinning asteroid on record was 2020 HS7, with a rotation period of 2.99 seconds. Scientists used a new technique to visualize the asteroid's rotational speed by adjusting the camera's aperture to keep the starry background sharp and letting the asteroid appear as a trail of light.

The detection of 2024 BX1 just three hours before impact is a rare occurrence, as about 99% of near-Earth asteroids smaller than 30m (98 ft) across are yet undiscovered. NASA and other space agencies are working to detect and track near-Earth asteroids, with the goal of preventing potential threats to the planet.

Astronomers suspect the asteroid may have started disintegrating about 50km (30 miles) west of Berlin, dropping smaller space rocks along the way. NASA's Asteroid Watch tweeted, "Heads Up: A tiny asteroid will disintegrate as a harmless fireball west of Berlin near Nennhausen shortly at 1:32am CET. Overseers will see it if it's clear!" while astronomer Franck Marchis added, "A 1m asteroid called Sar2736 is going to impact Earth, West of Berlin (city of Rathenow) at 00:32 UT, so in 30 min. HARMLESS but several fragments will probably fell on the ground. Look up if you live in the area. It will be a beautiful show."

The event serves as a reminder of the importance of asteroid detection and tracking efforts. Knowing the rotational speeds of asteroids flying close to Earth could be useful in mitigating the risk they pose to humans and infrastructure. Researchers are exploring ways to deflect and detonate explosives on asteroids to safeguard Earth, including the use of nuclear devices.