NASA says an asteroid will have close contact with Earth. But not until the 2100s.

An asteroid the size of the Empire State Building has a low chance of hitting Earth. Do not worry. You’ll be dead long before that has...


An asteroid the size of the Empire State Building has a low chance of hitting Earth.

Do not worry. You’ll be dead long before that has a chance to happen. Your children too. Probably all of your grandchildren too.

At a press conference on Wednesday, NASA scientists said there was a 1 in 1,750 chance that a asteroid named Bennu, which is a little wider than the Empire State Building is tall, could collide with Earth by 2300.

This is actually slightly higher than an earlier estimate of 1 in 2,700 over a shorter period, by 2,200.

“This is not a significant change,” said Davide Farnocchia, scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and senior author of an article published in the journal Icarus. “I’m no more concerned about Bennu than before. The probability of impact remains very low.

In any case, Bennu’s trajectory is known with enough precision that the chances of collision are exactly zero for the next century. But the crystal ball gets blurry in 2135. That year, Bennu will still miss Earth, but it will come close enough, about 125,000 miles, or about half the distance from Earth to the Moon.

The exact distance becomes crucial, as Earth’s gravity will launch a slingshot at Bennu as it passes. If it passes a particular distance at a certain point in time – what planetary scientists call a “gravitational keyhole” – then it will be sent down a path that could indeed cross Earth about half a century later.

The most worrying day would be September 24, 2182, but there would be only a 0.037% chance it was a bad day. Bennu is about a third of a mile, or half a mile, wide. It’s not big enough to cause a planet-wide extinction, but it could inflict a wide swath of devastation.

“You can usually, as a rule of thumb, say that the size of the crater is going to be 10 to 20 times the size of the object,” said Lindley Johnson, the planetary defense officer at NASA. “So an object the size of half a kilometer will create a crater at least five kilometers in diameter, and it can reach 10 kilometers in diameter. But the area of ​​devastation is going to be much, much larger than that, up to 100 times the size of the crater. So an object Bennu’s size impacting the east coast states would pretty much devastate things along the coast. “

The improved probabilities come from NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft, who spent two years studying Bennu closely. The spacecraft left Bennu three months ago and is now heading for Earth to drop rock and dirt samples it has collected on the asteroid for detailed laboratory study by scientists.

When the spacecraft orbiting Bennu, Dr Farnocchia and his colleagues were able to accurately determine the asteroid’s orbit. This allowed them to improve the estimate of Bennu’s position in 2135 by a factor of 20.

The observations of OSIRIS-REX also made it possible to calculate the weak forces transmitted to Bennu by the heating and cooling of the surface.

Those responsible for the mission chose Bennu in part because he appears to be responsible for the types of carbon molecules that may have provided the building blocks of life on Earth. But they also chose him in part because Bennu is what is called a near-Earth asteroid. Its orbit intersects that of the Earth, and since its discovery in 1999, planetologists have been able to see that it represented a potential danger for our planet.

But a greater danger could come from the asteroids not seen yet. Dr Johnson said about 40 percent of Bennu-sized near-Earth asteroids remain to be found.

If an asteroid seemed likely to collide with Earth, humanity could try to deflect it into an orbit that misses the planet. NASA will conduct an experiment using this technique with an asteroid called Didymos in 2022, sending the Double asteroid redirect test spaceship to push it out of orbit. The spacecraft is expected to launch later this year.

Dr Johnson said if there were decades of prior warning, such a deviation would work for a wandering asteroid the size of Bennu, although it would require multiple impactors.

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Newsrust - US Top News: NASA says an asteroid will have close contact with Earth. But not until the 2100s.
NASA says an asteroid will have close contact with Earth. But not until the 2100s.
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