Go off Bennu!
If mass wildfires and flooding weren't enough to get your existential cogs turning, there’s now a new threat to keep you up at night. Asteroid Bennu, the half-kilometer space rock hurtling through the solar system, is more likely to crash into Earth than previously thought.
But don’t spiral just yet: Scientists reported that the odds are still low that Bennu will hit us in the next century.
“We shouldn’t be worried about it too much,” said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist with NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who served as the study’s lead author.
The chances of the asteroid clobbering into Earth have risen from 1-in-2,700 to 1-in-1,750 over the next century or two. But scientists now have a much better idea of Bennu’s path because of data gathered by NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft. “So I think that overall, the situation has improved,” he added.
Osiris-Rex is currently headed back to Earth after collecting samples from Bennu – which is considered one of the two most hazardous known asteroids in our solar system. The samples will arrive in 2023 and will help scientists in predicting the asteroid’s orbital path.
Bennu will have a close run-in with Earth in 2135 when it passes within half the distance of the moon. Earth’s gravity could alter its future path and put it on a collision course with Earth in the 2200s. But this is less likely now based on Osiris-Rex findings.
If Bennu did come crashing down into Earth, NASA maintains that it wouldn’t wipe out life dinosaur-style, but rather create a crater around 10 to 20 times the size of the asteroid. The area of devastation would be 100 times the size of the crater.
According to Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, scientists are already ahead of the curve with Bennu, which was discovered in 1999. This increases the chances of pushing them out of Earth’s orbit.
“One hundred years from now, who knows what the technology is going to be?” he said.
In November, NASA plans to launch a mission to knock an asteroid off-course by hitting it. The experimental target will be the moonlet of a bigger space rock.