The race to track the path of asteroid 2024 BX1’s collision with Earth

The race to track the path of asteroid 2024 BX1’s collision with Earth

Asteroid above Earth art

Veteran asteroid hunter Szarnieczki’s discovery of an incoming asteroid led to a coordinated global response, culminating in the successful observation of the impact of asteroid 2024 BX1 near Berlin. This event underscores the progress made in space observation technology and the value of international cooperation. Credit: SciTechDaily.com

  • On January 20, 2024, astronomer Krysztian Sarnitzky discovered an asteroid on an imminent collision course with Earth.
  • Just hours later, it struck our planet’s atmosphere 50 kilometers west of Berlin, producing a stunning fireball.
  • Called 2024 BX1, this asteroid is the eighth asteroid spotted by humanity before the impact – and the third discovered by Szarnieczky.

Discovery of asteroid 2024 BX1

It was 22:48 CET on Saturday 20 January when veteran asteroid hunter Sarnitsky discovered a new asteroid using the 60cm Schmidt telescope at the Beskestitu mountain station, part of the Konkoly Observatory in Hungary.

He immediately sent his data about the asteroid’s path to the Minor Planet Center, but with only three preliminary observations, it was impossible to know whether it was on a collision course with Earth.

However, Sarniczky continued to track the asteroid, and just a few minutes later, he shared four more observations that clearly indicated a 100% chance of an imminent collision.

Tracking asteroid 2024 BX1 before impact

The final discovery of asteroid 2024 BX1 (initially known as Sar2736 before the impact) was made by Luca Buzzi of the Schiaparelli Observatory in Italy. Exposure began at 00:24:55 UTC on January 20, 2024. The asteroid moves upward from the center of the image and begins to fade from view as it enters Earth’s shadow. Image source: L. Pozzi, G.V. Schiaparelli Observatory

Global response and impact

Automatic impact monitoring systems around the world, including ESA’s MeerKAT, responded to this new data and sprang into action, issuing an alert to astronomers and asteroid experts.

Szarnieczky continued to make and report his observations, and others in Europe soon joined him. More than a dozen observatories turned their eyes toward the incoming object. With their help, it soon became clear that the small asteroid, about one meter in size, would collide with Earth in less than two hours, about 50 kilometers west of Berlin, Germany.

Meerkat alert for impact object Sar2736 (asteroid later designated 2024 BX1)

Predicted impact location and time calculated by ESA’s MeerKAT imminent impact alert system after the first 14 observations of the object Sar2736 (later identified as asteroid 2024 BX1). Meerkat updates the ratings every time it receives new reviews. Credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Asteroids of this size hit Earth on average every two weeks. They pose no significant danger, and most have never been discovered. But they can help us understand how many small asteroids are out there, and we can study the fireballs they produce to determine what they’re made of, if we capture them with a camera.

Fortunately, large asteroids several kilometers in diameter are much easier to detect and are relatively rare. The vast majority of near-Earth asteroids that would cause devastating damage if they hit our planet have already been detected, and we don’t know which ones will hit our planet in at least the next 100 years.

Gaia maps 150,000 asteroid orbits

ESA’s Gaia spacecraft is mapping more than 150,000 asteroid orbits. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, Acknowledgments: Stefan Jordaens, Toni Sagrista, Paolo Tanga; Gaia Sky (developed by Tony Sagrista); Gaia DR3 data (https://www.archives.esac.esa.int/gaia)

The event and its importance

As Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, astronomers continued to track asteroid 2024 BX1 until it entered Earth’s shadow at 01:25 CET and disappeared from sight.

The observers held their breath, but they did not have to wait long. Just a few minutes later, at 01:32 CET, 2024 BX1 struck Earth’s atmosphere and burned an explosive streak across the night sky. Many people in the Berlin area and throughout Central Europe were able to witness the fireball, and a small number of people and automated camera systems were also able to record it.

Late in the evening of January 20, 2024, astronomer Christian Sarnitsky discovered an asteroid on an imminent collision course with Earth. Just hours later, it struck our planet’s atmosphere 50 kilometers west of Berlin, producing this stunning fireball at 01:32 CET, Sunday 21 January. Later named 2024 BX1, it is the eighth asteroid observed by humanity before the impact. Thanks to the rapid response and information-sharing from the asteroid and fireball communities on Earth, including ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre, many people were able to see and record this amazing spectacle, despite it occurring only hours after notice and in the middle of the night. . the night. This video was captured by AllSky7 Network. Credit: ALLSKY7/Circo Molau – AMS16 Kitzur

Only eight asteroids were discovered before they collided with Earth’s atmosphere. The first of these discoveries was made in 2008, and four have been discovered in just the past two years. As humanity’s ability to detect smaller space objects continues to improve, this number is likely to rise significantly in the coming years.

During the three hours between discovery and impact, about 180 observations were submitted to the Minor Planet Center, including those of the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center taken from Tenerife, Spain.

The path and impact of asteroid 2024 BX1

Visualization of the path and impact of asteroid 2024 BX1 on January 21, 2024, created using the Flyby visualization tool of the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre. Credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Thanks to the rapid response and sharing of information from the asteroid and fireball communities on Earth, many people were able to see and record this amazing spectacle, despite it occurring only hours after notice and in the middle of the night.

A search is now underway for any possible meteorites that survived the fiery journey through the atmosphere and reached Earth.

For more on this story, see Small asteroid discovered on imminent collision course with Earth.

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