The first fragment of 2024 BX1 recovered by the Natural History Museum/DLR/Freie Universtaet Berlin team. Right in the image is team lead Lutz Hecht, while guide SETI Institute meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens shows the fragment discovered by student Dominique Dieter left of him. Far left is student Clara Weihe who found the second meteorite.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Peter Jenniskens)
Meteorite hunters have successfully recovered fragments of an asteroid that impacted Earth over Berlin, Germany, on Sunday (Jan. 21) — and the space rocks could be very rare indeed.
The 3.3-foot (1-meter) wide asteroid dubbed 2024 BX1 was spotted by NASA around 90 minutes before it hit Earth’s atmosphere. It burned up upon impact, exploding and creating a fireball seen by observers across Europe.
Following the event, on Monday (Jan. 22), intrepid meteorite hunters were out searching for fragments of Asteroid 2024 BX1. One team that hit pay dirt was led by SETI meteor scientist Peter Jenniskens; the crew found the second and third fragments to be uncovered.
“I was incredibly relieved to find these meteorites,” Jenniskens told Space.com. “We had walked many tens of kilometers on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I was getting a sinking feeling that maybe nothing survived from this — this very aggressive fragmentation.”
The meteorites, weighing 5.3 grams and 3.1 grams respectively, were finally discovered by Freie Universitaet students Dominik Dieter and Cara Weihe at around noon local time on Friday (Jan. 26), with the team uncovering yet more samples on Saturday and Sunday.
Related: How NASA predicted the Jan. 21 asteroid crash over Germany
This isn’t Jenniskens’ first meteorite hunt.
The SETI scientist had led similar space rock searches for meteorites that came from asteroids detected in space before exploding in Earth’s atmosphere. In 2008, for instance, he ran a meteorite-hunting expedition in Sudan as well as 10 years later in Botswana. More recently, Jenniskens found himself in France with a similar goal.
Jenniskens said this particular search, however, was so challenging because whereas meteorites are usually easy to distinguish from more mundane Earth rocks — they tend to possess a dark, smooth look — these fragments strongly resembled terrestrial rocks.
“What we’re actually looking for was very different from what most people consider a meteorite,” he said. “If you were walking through the fields and saw a rock like this, then you would pass by it.”
The official classification of these meteorites hasn’t been made yet, but Jenniskens hints that these samples could be something very special. “The next big step in the research is to understand what exactly we’re looking at here,” Jenniskens said.
“It’s very cool.”
A meteorite fragment from asteroid 2024 BX1 (Image credit: courtesy of Peter Jenniskens)What sets these meteorites apart?
Denis Vida, a meteor physics postdoctoral researcher at Western University, told Space.com that the parent body of the fragments found by Jenniskens and his team was part of a group of near-Earth asteroids called the “Apollo asteroids.”
He added that,