On Sunday, Feb. 12, a small asteroid (more appropriately called a meteoroid) raced toward Earth. But fortunately, astronomers were prepared thanks to advances in planetary warning systems put in place over the past several years.
When the object struck Earth (making it a meteorite), it became just the seventh falling space rock calculated in advance to hit our planet — and the third such object found in the past 12 months.
According to an ESA press release, European astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky first observed the now-named asteroid, 2023 CX1, heading toward Earth. The observations were carried out from Piszkéstető Observatory in Hungary just after 8:18 P.M. UTC.
Within the hour, a second observation of the object was made by astronomers at the Višnjan Observatory in Croatia and reported to the Minor Planet Center (MPC), which services include announcing discoveries of asteroids and other anomalous objects.
The space rock was predicted to strike Earth north of France between 2:50 A.M. UTC and 3:03 A.M. UTC.
Soon after the initial report, other organizations jumped into action, weighing the possible effect this space object could have on surrounding areas. However, despite predicting with 100 percent certainty that the object would indeed strike Earth, scientists agreed that the one-meter-wide object would not pose a threat.
The reports ended up being correct. Observers from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands watched as the glowing object (meteor) faded from sight before landing in the cold waters of the English Channel at 2:59 A.M. UTC.
According to the news release, there may be some small meteorite fragments from the object that also landed off the coast of Rouen in Normandy, France.
ESA’s Planetary Defence Office and NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program expects to continue increasing the accuracy of their predictions as they continue their search for hazardous objects that may pose a threat to Earth.