NASA will launch a probe this fall to collect data from an asteroid the space agency fears could one day strike Earth.
The NASA probe would arrive at the asteroid, called 101955 Bennu, in 2018 and return to Earth in 2023. The asteroid is around 500 meters in diameter and travels around the sun at 63,000 miles per hour, which is enough to do serious damage if it strikes Earth. The asteroid has a small chance of getting dangerously close to Earth in 2135.
“That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century,” Dr. Dante Lauretta, professor of planetary science at Arizona University, told The Sunday Times.
The probe, dubbed Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS REx), will spend a year studying the asteroid’s chemical makeup, mineralogy and geologic history. The data will help scientists calculate the odds of it eventually striking Earth.
A different asteroid came disturbingly close to Earth in March, and was 16 times closer to Earth than the Moon. It actually passed closer to the world than many communications satellites.
NASA announced in January that it formalized a Planetary Defense Coordination Office to defend Earth from asteroids that could potentially end humanity while working with international partners such as the Italian Campo Imperatore Near-Earth Object Survey and the Japanese Spaceguard Association.
NASA will also be working with the National Nuclear Security Administration to work out how to use nuclear weapons to deflect asteroids. The agency is planning a mission to redirect a different asteroid around 2025, but the program has been heavily criticized for lacking scientific merit.
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