An asteroid is not going to crash to Earth and send humans the way of the dinosaurs in a couple of hundred years. Well, probably not.
The department of America’s space program tasked with watching the cosmos for giant asteroids that could be dangerous to Earth’s existence has some good news and bad news.
- The good news: NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — simply, the OSIRIS-REx — has been able to monitor and collect samples from a 500-meter wide asteroid name Bennu for the last two years, and is now headed back to Earth.
- The bad news: The space agency’s planetary defense program hasn’t been able to rule out the possibility that the massive Bennu will not one day come rocketing through space and crash to Earth.
But NASA says that is unlikely — at least in the next couple of centuries —and that technology has made the agency better at predicting a potential Armageddon.
Bennu will make a “close approach” to Earth in 2135, but won’t careen into Earth in Hollywood fashion at that time, NASA said in a recent press release.
Scientists have been able to determine — more accurately than they have in the past — that based on studying Bennu’s orbit, the “total impact probability through the year 2300 is about 1 in 1,750 (or 0.057%), NASA said.
- The researchers predicted that Sept. 24, 2182, was “the most significant single date in terms of a potential impact, with an impact probability of 1 in 2,700 (or about 0.037%).”
- “Although the chances of it hitting Earth are very low, Bennu remains one of the two most hazardous known asteroids in our solar system, along with another asteroid called 1950 DA,” NASA added.
OSIRIS-REx is helping NASA understand Bennu
NASA’S OSIRIS-REx is 20 feet long, 8 by 8 feet wide and has a suite of sensors and tools that collect data and samples from Bennu, according to NASA. The small, unmanned spacecraft first launched in September 2016 and is expected to return to Earth in 2023.
- “The OSIRIS-REx data give us so much more precise information, we can test the limits of our models and calculate the future trajectory of Bennu to a very high degree of certainty through 2135,” said Davide Farnocchia, who leads the Bennu study, in a statement.
- The spacecraft, along with taking images and collecting data about Bennu, was able to collect rock and dust samples that will also return to Earth.
It’s unclear if NASA was being ironic when it nicknamed its asteroid-studying flyer so similarly to what could have been a now-extinct dinosaur (the Osiris Rex has yet to make an appearance in a “Jurassic Park” movie).