An asteroid named Bennu could one day strike our planet. A new space mission could help us learn how to stop it.
Discovered in 1999, 101955 Bennu is roughly 1,640 feet in diameter and orbits the Sun at a speed of 63,000 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the asteroid’s orbit passes our own every 6 years, meaning that it could, eventually, collide with Earth.
“That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century,” said Dante Lauretta, a planetary science professor at Arizona University, according to the Independent.
To better prepare for this apocalyptic event, NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft to collect a sample from the asteroid.
“[The mission] is key to our search for organics on Bennu,” Lauretta said, according to NASA statement.
“In particular, we will rely on it to find the areas of Bennu rich in organic molecules to identify possible sample sites of high science value, as well as the asteroid’s general composition.”
The spacecraft, which will launch next month, will rely on a small vacuum that can suck up between 60 and 400 grams of soil. This will return to Earth in 2023.
These samples will help scientists understand Bennu’s composure, and how temperature fluctuations affect the asteroid.
This information, in turn, will give NASA a better understanding of Bennu’s orbit.
But the mission is about more than avoiding Armageddon. According to Lauretta, the OSIRIS mission could help humanity better understand its own origins.
“We believe Bennu is a time capsule from the very beginnings of our solar system,” he told ABC News. “So the sample can potentially hold answers to the most fundamental questions human beings ask, like ‘Where do we come from?'”
Organics found on the asteroid could point toward the origins of life on Earth, and may even provide clues as to whether life ever existed on other planetary bodies in our solar system.
For the time being, there’s no need to panic. Bennu has only a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting the Earth between 2175 and 2196.