Fastest-Spinning Asteroid Shatters Over Berlin

Written by Camilla Jessen

May.17 - 2024 6:20 PM CET

The asteroid that broke up over Berlin was the fastest-spinning ever seen.

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Earlier this year, an extraordinary event unfolded in the skies over Berlin as the asteroid 2024 BX1, the fastest-spinning asteroid ever recorded, entered Earth's atmosphere and broke apart.

This event provided a rare opportunity for scientists to observe and study the characteristics of such a rapidly rotating space rock.

A Record-Breaking Spin

Asteroid 2024 BX1 was spinning at an unprecedented rate, completing one full rotation every 2.6 seconds. This translates to about 30,000 rotations per day, making it the fastest spin observed in an asteroid.

Despite its diminutive size—probably no more than one meter wide—its rotation speed set a new record in asteroid observations.

Asteroids spin for various reasons, including collisions during their formative years. Generally, larger asteroids, those over a kilometer in diameter, cannot sustain rapid rotations without breaking apart, as their internal cohesion is not strong enough.

Smaller asteroids like 2024 BX1 are more compact and have greater internal strength, allowing them to endure much faster spins.

Scientific Impact

The asteroid's dramatic entry occurred on January 21, when it blazed through the atmosphere and disintegrated over the German capital, Berlin.

Some fragments of 2024 BX1 survived the fiery descent and were recovered, offering valuable material for scientific analysis.

The event was particularly notable as it was one of the few instances where an incoming asteroid was tracked before its impact, spotted just three hours prior to entering Earth's atmosphere.

Maxime Devogele and his team at the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre in Italy captured images of the asteroid before its impact.

Despite its incredible speed of approximately 50,000 kilometers per hour, the elongated shape of 2024 BX1 made its rotational brightness variations prominent in these images.

Studying the spin rates and internal structure of asteroids like 2024 BX1 is vital for planetary defense. Understanding how these space rocks hold together and how they react upon entering Earth’s atmosphere can help scientists predict their behavior and potential impact risks.

"If it’s hard, it will react differently than if it’s a piece of snow that has no internal strength," Devogele explains.

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