OSIRIS-REX, a spacecraft that visited Bennu, an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building, has improved its forecast of its orbit.
What is Asteroid Bennu?
Approximately 200 million miles from the Earth, asteroid Bennu stands as tall as the Empire State Building.
Spacecraft designed to collect dust and pebbles from the asteroid Bennu in 2023 by collecting spectral data, resource identification, security, and regolith exploration.
Nine-year-old North Carolina boy, who won NASA’s “Name that Asteroid” competition in 2013, named the asteroid after an Egyptian deity. Among the first people to discover the asteroid was the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research team, funded by NASA.
The Sun is orbited by asteroids, which are smaller than planets. In addition to being called minor planets, they are also called dwarf planets. Asteroids, remnants of the creation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago, comprise the majority of the 994,383 known asteroids, according to NASA.
There are three classes of asteroids. Asteroids are located in two places: first, in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, in which there are an estimated 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.
Second, there are trojans, which are asteroid bodies with orbits that overlap with other bodies. Pluto, Jupiter and Neptune have trojans, NASA reports. The Earth trojan was also reported in 2011.
The third type of asteroid is a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA), whose orbits cross Earth’s path close to the surface. The spacecraft that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers. Over 1400 of these astrophysical objects are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).
Mission OSIRIS-REX: What is it?
NASA is attempting to return a sample from an ancient asteroid for the first time. At least 60 grams of samples will be returned to Earth by the end of the mission, which will take seven years to complete. This mission, according to NASA, will return to Earth the largest amount of extraterrestrial material since Apollo.
Launched in 2016, the spacecraft reached its target in 2018 and has since tried to match the asteroid’s velocity by using tiny rocket thrusters to rendezvous with it. It also used this time for identifying potential sampling sites and surveying the surface.
It has recently been attempted to grab a sample from the asteroid with the spacecraft’s TAGsam (Touch & Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) at a sampling site no larger than several parking spaces.
In addition to cameras and a spectrometer, five instruments are being used to investigate Bennu. In 2021, the mission is scheduled to leave, and it will take more than two years for the mission to return.
NASA says asteroid Bennu will brush past the Earth in the near future. It won’t happen until the 2100s.
Earth could be hit by an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building.
It’s okay. That won’t happen until long after you’ve died. And so will your children. Probably also all your grandchildren.
NASA scientists said on Wednesday that between now and 2300, there was a one-in-1,750 chance for an asteroid, Bennu, which is bigger than the Empire State Building, to collide with Earth.
One in 2,700 is actually a slightly higher estimate than previous estimates between now and 2200 that estimated one in 2,700.
“It’s not a significant change,” said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and lead author of a paper published in the journal Icarus. “I’m not any more concerned about Bennu than I was before. The impact probability remains really small.”
It is already known enough to predict accurately Bennu’s trajectory that there are no chances of colliding with it for a century or more. However, the crystal ball will become less clear in 2135. Bennu will continue to miss Earth in that year, but it will come pretty close, closer than 125,000 miles, or half the distance between Earth and the moon.
Bennu slingshots as it passes Earth. The exact distance becomes crucial. A “gravitational keyhole” would take it to a point where it would intersect Earth about half a century later if it passes by at a certain distance at a certain time.
September 24, 2182, would be the most worrisome day, but there would only be a 0.037 percent chance that it would be a bad day. Approximately a third of a mile, or half a kilometer, wide is Bennu. Even though it would not cause a planet-wide extinction, it would be great enough to inflict significant damage.
“You can usually, by rule of thumb, say the crater size is going to be 10 to 20 times the size of the object,” said Lindley Johnson, the planetary defense officer at NASA. “So a half-kilometer-sized object is going to create a crater that’s at least five kilometers in diameter, and it can be as much as 10 kilometers in diameter. But the area of devastation is going to be much, much broader than that, as much as 100 times the size of the crater. So an object Bennu’s size impacting on the Eastern Seaboard states would pretty much devastate things up and down the coast.”
OSIRIS-REX on board NASA’s spacecraft studied Bennu closely for two years. This has improved the chances of finding Bennu. Scientists will study rock and dirt samples it collected from Bennu in detail in laboratory experiments returning to Earth following three months on Bennu.
Dr. Farnocchia and his colleagues were able to pinpoint the asteroid’s orbit precisely when the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu. As a result, a 20 percent improvement in estimation of Bennu’s position in 2135 resulted.
OSIRIS-REX’s observations also allowed scientists to calculate how the surface’s heating and cooling affect Bennu.
Bennu was chosen, among other factors, because it contains molecules similar to those that may have provided the building blocks for life on Earth. However, Bennu is also known as a near-Earth asteroid, so they chose it in part for that reason. In 1999, it was discovered that this object may pose a danger to Earth due to its orbit crossing Earth’s.
However, asteroids that are not yet seen could pose the greatest danger. Near-Earth asteroids the size of Bennu still remain undiscovered by about 40 percent, according to Dr. Johnson.
It is possible to steer an asteroid so that it does not collide with Earth if it appears likely to do so. This technique will be applied to the asteroid Didymos by NASA in 2022. Asteroid Redirect Test spacecraft will be used to nudge it off its course. In the coming months, the spacecraft will be launched.
A deflection of such a large asteroid would take multiple impactors if there was a decades-early warning, according to Johnson, although it was possible if there was several decades in advance warning.
Asteroid Bennu: Why do scientists study it?
This asteroid is about 200 million miles away from Earth and as large as the Empire State Building. Since asteroids formed at the same time as planets and the sun, scientists study them to unravel information about planet and sun formation. Asteroids that could pose a threat to humans are also trackable.
The reason scientists are looking for information regarding this asteroid is because of these reasons. As a result, Bennu has not undergone slight changes since it was formed, so it contains minerals and chemicals dating back billions of years. Besides being relatively close to Earth, it is also relatively large.