Tiny asteroid's earthly fireworks predicted with pinpoint accuracy by NASA
Last year it was over France. This year it was over Germany. Where will the rocks strike next?
A NASA system has accurately predicted where and when an asteroid entered the Earth's atmosphere.
The asteroid in question, 2024 BX1, was only a meter in size and disintegrated harmlessly over Germany on January 21. Still, NASA's Scout impact hazard assessment system was able to give advance warning on where and when the asteroid would hit.
According to NASA: "This is the eighth time in history that a small Earth-bound asteroid has been detected while still in space, before entering and disintegrating in our atmosphere."
Boffins reckon that the entry fireball could have showered an area approximately 37 miles (60 kilometers) west of Berlin with a scattering of smaller meteorites.
2024 BX1 was spotted less than three hours before impact by Krisztián Sárneczky at Piszkéstető Mountain Station of the Konkoly Observatory near Budapest, Hungary.
Those and subsequent observations eventually found their way to Scout, which calculated the possible trajectory of the object and the likelihood of an Earth impact. As more data was added, the location and time were refined.
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NASA has been tasked with detecting considerably larger near-Earth objects – 140 meters in diameter and up – that could cause significant damage on the ground. The agency says these objects can be spotted much further in advance than something as small as 2024 BX1.
The agency has also demonstrated technology capable of altering the orbit of a potential killer asteroid with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
In early 2023, Scout accurately predicted the location and time of impact of another tiny asteroid, 2023 CX1. This asteroid was detected seven hours before entering the atmosphere over northern France.
While small asteroids, such as 2024 BX1, entering the atmosphere are not uncommon, they do provide a useful demonstration of the prediction capabilities of systems like Scout.
"With NEO surveys becoming more sophisticated and sensitive, more of these harmless objects are being detected before entering our atmosphere, providing real exercises for NASA's planetary defense program," said NASA.
"The details gathered from such events are helping to inform the agency’s mitigation strategies should a large and hazardous object on a collision course with our planet be detected in the future." ®