BERLIN : SPACE ROCKS found near Berlin might be fragments of Mercury.

Scientists have found pieces of meteorite that fell near Berlin just after midnight on Jan 21. It is a rare find, from an asteroid that was identified just before it entered Earth's atmosphere.

Only a handful of such events in the recent past have allowed astronomers to trace an incoming rock's origin in the solar system.

Early analysis of the minerals in the fragments by researchers in Berlin has compounded the rarity. The meteorite is an aubrite, a class with unknown origins that some scientists argue may be pieces of the planet Mercury.

They made up just 80 of the 70,000 or so meteorites that had been collected on Earth before the event last month.

The asteroid that became the meteorite [ or rather fragments of meteorite] was initially spotted by Krisztian Sarneczky, a Hungarian astronomer, three hours before it hit Earth's atmosphere.

A network of cameras tracked the incoming rock, labeled 2024 BXI as it fell near Ribbeck, a village outside Berlin. Estimates suggest the rock was less than three feet [ about a meter ] across.

The source of aubrites, named after the French town of Aubres, near where such fragments were first found, remains mysterious : Not all scientists support the theory that they are fragments of Mercury.

If aubrites came directly from Mercury, 2024 BXI should have originated in the inner solar system. But tracing its path back, scientists found that its initial orbit was wider and outside Earth's orbit.

It is possible, though, that aubrites were ejected from Mercury long ago into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter; forming a group called E-type asteroids.

The orbit of 2024 BXI does not rule out this idea completely, although not all researchers accept that explanation either. [ Jonathan O'Callaghan ]


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