#NASA is considering launching space probes to study an #asteroid that could collide with our planet in the future with devastating effects, according to an article published by news.com.au.
The asteroid passes increasingly closer to Earth
The asteroid, called Bennu, crosses the orbit of the #Earth every six years. Scientists have found that it moves increasingly closer to our planet, according to an article published by the New York Post. It was discovered first in 1999. This asteroid has deviated by about 160 kilometers of its course from the moment of its discovery. Thus, in 2135, Bennu will pass between Earth and the Moon, "at a stone's throw" from our planet, according to the publication Sunday Times.
Professor Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona said that the Earth's gravity could change Bennu's trajectory with the potential to put it on a path incident with Earth. This could happen later during this century.
Bennu has a diameter of about 487 meters and it is moving on an orbit around the Sun with an average speed of 101,000 km per hour. The risk of an impact with the Earth is small, but still cannot be ignored. If such an event would occur, it would be the equivalent to the detonation of 3 billion tons of explosives, an explosion 200 times more powerful than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.
Professor Mark Bailey of the Northern Ireland Observatory Armagh said that Bennu is the limit in terms of size for a space object capable of producing a global catastrophe.
A probe will be launched in September towards the asteroid
In these circumstances, NASA is going to launch the Osiris-Rex probe towards Bennu in September. In the first year after its launch the probe will orbit around the Sun until it will gain enough speed to be projected back to Earth. From Earth it will be heading towards the asteroid with an increased speed. This will happen due to a slingshot effect. The encounter is going to take place in August 2018 according to the calculations. Osiris-Rex will spend a year in the orbit around the asteroid, it will map its surface and it will collect samples through aspiration. After that it will return to Earth.
Bennu is a relic left over from the formation of our solar system and it may have a high content of organic molecules, according to Dante Lauretta. He added that asteroids like this one could have brought such organic molecules on the Earth which was newly formed and thus it could have been contributed to the primordial soup from which life emerged. Lauretta also added that scientists need to know everything about this space object because such information could prove to be vital for the future generations.