They have finally been found: the various parts of the space rock 2024 BX1 that recently exploded above Berlin. Research into the fragments shows that this is a rare aubrite.
The end of January the space rock 2024 BX1 exploded over an area just west of Berlin, just three hours after it was discovered by an astronomer in Hungary. Scientists were immediately excited and hopeful that pieces of it were waiting to be discovered somewhere in the German fields. A number of them traveled to our eastern neighbor to search. And with success; the debris was eventually found – with some difficulty – in a field near the German village of Ribbeck. And an initial analysis now reveals that the researchers have come across special stones: fragments of an aubrite.
Hard to find
“The space chunks were so incredibly difficult to find,” says astronomer and SETI Institute researcher Peter Jenniskens, who traveled from San Francisco to Germany to look for the debris. “This is because from a distance they really look very similar to normal stones. You can only recognize them when you get closer. Even with the excellent estimates from Czech astronomers, it was still very difficult to find the debris. Ultimately, we were only able to locate the pieces after Polish meteorite hunters discovered the first stone. The rest were found quite quickly afterwards.” The pieces were eventually found in a field near the German village of Ribbeck. The search was a collaboration between Jenniskens and a number of German organizations, including the German one Museum of Natural Scienceof Free University of Berlin, German Center for Air and Spaceflight and the Technical University Berlin. The stone has now been analyzed and the results have been sent to the International Nomenclature Commission of the Meteoritical Society.
But this seems to be an aubrite. Aubrites are special because they rarely occur. In addition, they also look drastically different from other types of meteorites. Fellow scientist Christopher Hamann contributed to the search. He explains: “Aubrites look different from ‘normal’ space rocks. They are mainly gray and consist mainly of magnesium silicates, enstatite and forsterite. A good way to generally recognize space rocks is the presence of a glassy crust surrounding the meteorite. However, aubrites do not have this crust, which makes them very different in appearance from other asteroids. They are therefore very difficult to spot.”
The special composition of the space rock is not the only thing that makes it interesting. 2024 BX1 will also go down as one of the few meteorites discovered before impact. Normally, space rocks crash into Earth several times a year. These often come ‘out of the blue’; it is very difficult for scientists to predict such small objects in advance. But researchers did see 2024 BX1 coming; the stone was discovered just hours before it exploded over Berlin. And that is special (see box).
To give you a picture: in total, science has only successfully predicted the impact of a meteorite seven times before, making 2024 BX1 the eighth correct prediction. The vast majority of space rocks that hit our Earth are only discovered later. Some of these meteorites are actually dangerous: in 2013, about 1,200 people were injured when a space rock about 17 meters wide struck near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
Fun fact to end with: did you know that it is possible to buy an aubriet online? They just differ greatly in price; Sometimes you pay around 200 euros for a stone of just one gram, while a stone of more than 200 grams can easily cost more than 6,000 euros. If you really want to get an aubriet at a reasonable price, there is also an alternative solution: look in that field near Ribbeck, Germany. Perhaps the scientists have overlooked a small part.