Chances of Hazardous Asteroid Hitting Earth Are Higher Than Scientists Thought

Asteroid Bennu 6 photos
Photo: NASA
Asteroid BennuOsiris Spacecraft on Asteroid BennuAsteroid BennuAsteroid BennuAsteroid Bennu
New data suggests that the odds that one of the most hazardous known asteroids in our solar system might collide with Earth are higher than previously thought. Okay, you don't need to panic. The chances of asteroid Bennu hitting our planet in the next century are still very low, but if an impact were to occur, it would have the force of 1,200 megatons in TNT equivalent.
In a new study, published on Tuesday, August 10th in the journal Icarus , NASA researchers used precision-tracking data from the space agency's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to better understand the movements of Bennu through the year 2300.

Discovered in 1999 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project, the asteroid has a mean diameter of 490 m (1,610 ft) and is one of the two most hazardous known asteroids in our solar system, along with another asteroid called 1950 DA.

OSIRIS-REx spent over two years orbiting Bennu, gathering data on its size, shape, mass, and composition while also tracking its spin and orbital trajectory. On May 10th this year, OSIRIS-REx left the near-Earth object with a sample of rock and dust from the asteroid's surface. The spacecraft is currently on its way back home and will return to Earth with the sample on September 24th, 2023, for further scientific study.

The data gathered by NASA in the past two years helped scientists significantly reduce uncertainties about Bennu's orbit, determining its total impact probability through the year 2300, which the new study estimates to be about 1 in 1,750 or 0.057%.

Bennu will make a near flyby of Earth in 2135, during which it has a small chance of passing through a "gravitational keyhole." This will put it on a collision course with Earth in the late 22nd century. The researchers were able to pinpoint September 24th, 2182, as the most important date in terms of a potential impact, with an impact probability of 1 in 2,700 or around 0.037%.

Although a 0.057% and 0.037% impact probability remains very low, the study emphasizes the crucial role of OSIRIS-REx. For now, the study is still ongoing, as the scientists are waiting for the spacecraft's return to Earth to uncover more mysteries about Bennu.

"The spacecraft is now returning home, carrying a precious sample from this fascinating ancient object that will help us better understand not only the history of the solar system but also the role of sunlight in altering Bennu's orbit since we will measure the asteroid's thermal properties at unprecedented scales in laboratories on Earth," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator.

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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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