In order to save Earth from any future catastrophe, NASA will gather samples and pieces from an asteroid that may collide with Earth in less than 2 centuries.
Named „Bennu“, this asteroid’s diameter at its widest point amounts to half a kilometer making it larger than the Empire State building. It also travels at the breakneck speed of 63.000 miles per hour.
Discovered in 1999, it has always been a concern for scientists as it was a potential, life ending threat for Earth.
Every six years it crosses the Earth’s orbit. However, it is worth noting that Bennu is getting closer and will most probably pass between the moon and the Earth in 2135. In space terms, the distance is minuscule – a mere 290, 000 km.
If it were to collide with planet Earth, the asteroid would cause serious and apocalyptic damage. That is why the US space agency is taking this asteroid quite seriously and will launch probes that are supposed to analyze the rock and soil of the asteroid, to see if there is a way to protect ourselves.
Dante Lauretta, NASA official
The man in charge of the Bennu mission, professor of planetary science at Arizona University, Dante Lauretta, claimed that another, smaller, asteroid might interfere and change Bennu’s orbit and set it on a course for Earth. The chance of the asteroid colliding is 1 in 2,700.
Bennu hitting the Earth would result in an explosion as strong as three billion tons of high explosives going off at once.
The spacecraft needed to map the asteroid and to retrieve some samples, named OSIRIS-REX, will be launched next month.
OSIRIS-REX is intended to arrive on Bennu in 2018, and to spend a year sampling and analyzing the chemical composition, geology and mineralogy of the asteroid. Another thing that will be tested is the force that is capable of changing the orbits of asteroids. This is supposed to help humanity prepare better against threats like Bennu.
What is important here is mentioning “The Yarkovsky effect”. In Lauretta’s own words: “This is the force that acts on an asteroid when it absorbs sunlight and radiates it back into space as heat. It acts like a small thruster.”
The professor also claimed that Bennu’s position changed by 160 km since 1999.
OSIRIS-REX is intended to come back by 2023. The data it collects could be “vital” for future generations, says Dante Lauretta.
Mark Bailey, expert on impact risks and emeritus director of the Armagh Observatory, shares Lauretta’s fears.
He claims that: “Bennu falls on the boundary, in terms of size, for an object capable of causing a global catastrophe.”