Asteroid Bennu might hit Earth

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Baku, August 3 AZERTAC

By now, it's likely that you've heard about NASA's plans to send the unmanned Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (Osiris-REx) spacecraft on Sept. 8 to collect rock samples from Bennu, an asteroid estimated to measure 1,614 feet. If that's the case, then you've also likely heard reports about the asteroid having the potential to hit Earth and end all life here as we know it.

According to Tech Times, there is a chance that the asteroid will hit Earth in the last quarter of the 22nd century (a 0.037 percent chance, to be exact), but even if it does, mission officials noted that Bennu isn't close to being large enough to be an existential threat to the planet.

"We're not talking about an asteroid that could destroy the Earth," said Osiris-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. "We're not anywhere near that kind of energy for an impact."

Bennu, classified as a potentially dangerous asteroid, was discovered in 1999 and named after an Egyptian mythological bird by a North Carolina third grader who won an asteroid-naming contest. As its classification might suggest, it is a prime example of a near-Earth object (NEO) — bodies in the Solar System whose orbits bring them close to Earth.

Expected to return by 2023, researchers will analyze the material in order to address several lingering questions — primarily how asteroids like Bennu contributed to the birth of life on Earth and the evolution of the Solar System. Scientists believe that the asteroid is rich in carbon, a key ingredient in the organic molecules that are needed for life. Organic molecules have been found in comet and meteorite samples, suggesting that some of the key ingredients of life can be created in space.

With that said, if Bennu was found to be on a collision-course with Earth, there would still be a few options available. Given enough time, researchers say the asteroid could be veered off course via fly-along "gravity tractors" or "kinetic impactors." On the other hand, if we're pressed time, we still have nukes.

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