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Asteroid will likely get dangerously close to Earth next century

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 9:22 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Local researchers are working to bring back the very first samples of an asteroid to earth to learn more about the universe, but they’ve found something that could put Earth in a dilemma.

The University of Arizona’s OSIRIS-REx mission set off to grab samples from asteroid Bennu five years ago. Now, it’s heading back to earth with those precious samples.

“Now, the excitement is just growing,” said Dante Lauretta, a UA professor and principal investigator with the OSIRIS-REx Mission.

This was not the only mission OSIRIS-REx had. It was actually a calibration mission, too.

The asteroid, Bennu, is what’s called a “hazardous” asteroid, meaning it’s going to hurdle toward earth. And the trajectory is too close for comfort.

It will come about half the distance between the moon and Earth.

“It’s thousands of miles away. From the perspective of outer space, Bennu gets very, very close to the earth, which is why it’s a potentially hazardous asteroid, and why we’re paying attention to it,” said Lauretta.

Luckily, it will not happen in our lifetimes. It’ll scrape by around the year 2135, these researchers estimate. The chances of impact are less than half of point-one-percent.

“I don’t want people panicking, we’re not in any imminent danger from Bennu,” said Lauretta.

There is still a chance one of 343 objects in space could alter the trajectory of Bennu toward Earth, putting into a keyhole where Earth’s gravitational pull could just swing it right on a path to impact. It could create a crate 10 kilometers big, but devastation for at least 10 times greater than that.

“It would not end all life on earth, it would not even end all civilization, it would just ruin your day if you happened to be at the ground zero,” said Lauretta.

Scientists are watching for Bennu and taking a look at other asteroids with similar trajectories. The good news is the samples OSIRIS-REx is carrying will help them understand the rubble Bennu is made of, how it moves in space, through heat and what would need to be used to deflect if an “Armageddon” situation ever came to be.

“What’s more important is that people realize we’re doing the job of developing the technologies to understand the risks of an asteroid impact, and what we would do to define it really well, and even technologies that would lead to a mitigation effort in the future,” said Lauretta.

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