Berlin, Germany – On January 21st, 2024, an asteroid roughly the size of a meter entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded above the city of Berlin at 12:33 am UTC. The incident was observed and filmed by many, resembling the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion in Russia.
Prior to its entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the asteroid, designated as 2024 BX1, belonged to the Apollo group of Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs). It was first spotted by Hungarian astronomer Dr. Krisztián Sárneczky using a telescope at the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest.
A team of scientists from the Freie Universität Berlin, the Museum für Naturkunde (MfN), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Technische Universität Berlin, and the SETI Institute has since located and identified the fragments of the asteroid. These fragments were determined to be a rare type of asteroid known as “aubrites.”
The recovery of the asteroid fragments was led by SETI Institute meteor astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens and Dr. Lutz Hecht of MfN. They, along with a team of staff and students, managed to find the meteor fragments in the fields just south of the village of Ribbeck, approximately 50 km west of Berlin.
The hunt for the fragments was challenging due to the unique appearance of aubrites, which differ significantly from other types of meteorites. Aubrites often resemble ordinary rocks from a distance but are distinguishable up close by their mostly translucent glass crust and composition mainly of magnesium silicates enstatite and forsterite.
The asteroid’s trajectory and impact in Earth’s atmosphere were tracked by NASA’s Scout mission and the ESA’s Meerkat Asteroid Guard impact hazard assessment systems, with frequent trajectory updates provided by Davide Farnocchia of JPL/Caltech.
Following the recovery, Dr. Ansgar Greshake of MfN led the first analyses of one of the meteor fragments. The results showed that the fragments are consistent with an achondrite meteor of the aubrite type, highlighting the significance of the discovery as there is only material from eleven other observed falls of this type in meteorite collections worldwide.
This latest recovery marks Dr. Jenniskens’ fourth successful retrieval of a small asteroid that fell to Earth, adding to a series of impactful events in France, Botswana, and Sudan in previous years. The findings from this significant discovery have been submitted to the International Nomenclature Commission of the Meteoritical Society for verification.
The recovery and analysis of the meteor fragments have underscored the immense importance of collections for research and have provided valuable insights into this rare type of asteroid, enriching our understanding of these celestial bodies.