April 24, 2024

Small asteroid detected on imminent collision course with Earth

Near-Earth asteroid concept art

The Scout system’s prediction of the 2024 BX1 asteroid impact over Germany highlights the effectiveness of NASA’s planetary defense capabilities. Detected just 95 minutes before entering Earth’s atmosphere, the asteroid disintegrated harmlessly, demonstrating the increasing accuracy of near-Earth object (NEO) tracking systems. (Artist’s concept.) Credit: SciTechDaily.com

Asteroid 2024 BX1

This map shows the location where the small asteroid 2024 BX1 harmlessly impacted Earth’s atmosphere over Germany, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) west of Berlin, on January 21. A NASA system called Scout predicted the time and location of the impact to within 1 second and about 330 feet (100 meters). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Although NASA reports on near-Earth objects (NEOs) of all sizes, the agency has been tasked by Congress with detecting and tracking NEOs 140 meters in size or larger, which could cause significant damage on the ground if they impacted our planet. These objects can be seen much earlier than small objects like 2024 BX1.

Small asteroids like this one impact our planet from time to time. They pose no danger to life on Earth, but could provide a useful demonstration of NASA’s planetary defense capabilities, such as the Scout’s rapid response trajectory calculation and impact warnings.

As predicted

Asteroid 2024 BX1 was first observed less than three hours before its impact by Krisztián Sárneczky at the Piszkéstető mountain station of the Konkoly Observatory, near Budapest, Hungary. These first observations were reported to the Minor Planet Center – the internationally recognized clearinghouse for position measurements of small bodies in the solar system – and automatically published on the center’s Near-Earth Object Confirmation page so that other astronomers could make additional observations. .

Scout, which was developed and is operated by the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, automatically fetched the new data from this page, deducing the object’s possible trajectory and chances of impacting Earth. CNEOS calculates the orbit of each known NEO to provide assessments of potential impact risks to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at NASA Headquarters in Washington.


Late in the evening of January 20, 2024, astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky detected an asteroid on an imminent collision course with Earth. A few hours later, it hit our planet’s atmosphere 50 km west of Berlin, producing this impressive fireball at 01:32 CET, Sunday, January 21. Later named 2024 BX1, this is only the eighth asteroid humanity has seen before impact. Thanks to the rapid response and information sharing of Earth’s asteroid and fireball communities, including ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre, many people were able to see and record this spectacular sight, despite it occurring just a few hours ago. in advance and in the middle of the night. This video was captured by the AllSky7 network. Credit: ALLSKY7 / Sirko Molau – AMS16 Ketzuer

With three observations published on the confirmation page over 27 minutes, Scout initially identified that an impact was possible and that additional observations were urgently needed. As astronomers across Europe reported new data to the Minor Planet Center, the asteroid’s trajectory became better known and the likelihood of its impact on Earth increased significantly.

Seventy minutes after 2024 BX1 was first spotted, Scout reported a 100% probability of impact on Earth and began narrowing down the location and time. As tracking continued and more data became available over the next hour, Scout improved time and location estimates. As the asteroid disintegrated in a relatively populated part of the world, many photos and videos of the fireball were posted online within minutes of the event.

Trajectory and impact of asteroid 2024 BX1

Visualization of the trajectory and impact of asteroid 2024 BX1 on 21 January 2024, created using the ESA Near-Earth Object Coordination Center’s Flyby Visualization Tool. Credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Tracking NEOs

The first asteroid to be discovered and tracked well before it impacted our planet was 2008 TC3, which entered our atmosphere and disintegrated over Sudan in October 2008. This 13-foot-wide (4-meter-wide) asteroid scattered hundreds of small meteorites over the Nubian desert.

In early 2023, another small asteroid, designated 2023 CX1, was detected seven hours before entering Earth’s atmosphere in northwestern France. As with 2024 BX1, Scout accurately predicted the location and time of impact.

As NEO surveys become more sophisticated and sensitive, more of these harmless objects are being detected before they enter our atmosphere, providing real-world exercises for NASA’s planetary defense program. Details gathered from such events are helping inform the agency’s mitigation strategies should a large, dangerous object on a collision course with our planet be detected in the future.

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