(TargetLiberty.org) – Space: the final frontier. Star Trek paints a rosy picture of the great void beyond our planet, but what’s actually out there is far more frightening than friendly aliens flying technologically advanced starships. Meteors and asteroids are of special concern; they do sometimes make contact with the planet’s surface. Such incidents are extremely rare, but NASA is now suggesting one asteroid could hit us by as early as 2181.
Bennu Bearing Down on Earth
The contentious hunk of flying rock at the heart of NASA’s recent calculations is named after the ancient Egyptian god, Bennu. But don’t panic about its trajectory just yet; it’s been around, and orbiting the Earth, for millions of years. In fact, the asteroid passes us by at least once every six trips around the sun.
But, if Bennu is so familiar to us, why is NASA concerned? New calculations gathered from the satellite probe associated with their longstanding OSIRIS-REx mission show the asteroid’s chances of making contact with Earth are higher than ever. Researchers simply didn’t have access to the data in the past.
Calculating the Odds
NASA’s most recent report reveals that Bennu stands a 1 in 1,750 chance of striking our planet by 2300 CE. That 0.057% chance might not sound like much, but it is slightly higher than expected. Before they had access to data from OSIRIS-REx, scientists believed the risk of an actual hit from the giant conglomeration of debris was closer to 0.037%.
It’s worth noting that both of these numbers are still extremely low. In fact, you probably have a better chance of winning a small prize on a scratch ticket than planet Earth has to experience a strike from Bennu. But any risk is worth investigating — and risks like these are also prompting researchers to look into how we might defend ourselves from such strikes in the future.
Can We Break Up Asteroids?
Michael Bay’s smash hit movie, “Armageddon,” released in 1998, showcased a team of brave astronauts who flew into space to break up an incoming asteroid, thereby saving Earth from a cataclysmic strike. The key to that fictional representation’s success was a nuclear warhead — technology already present in our world today.
But don’t assume that means all is well just yet. While we have access to nuclear weapons, we don’t yet fully understand how we might get such a device to an asteroid, or just how much payload it would take to effectively break up the rock. The most we could do at the current point in time is fire rockets at the meteor from Earth and hope for the best.
There is, however, a decent chance we’ll have the answers to questions like these within the next 200 years. Researchers say Bennu-related data harvested by OSIRIS-REx is helping them to better understand “potentially hazardous asteroids.” The better we understand them, the greater our chances to defend against them in the future.
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