3:15 PM PDT, August 13, 2021
NASA scientists have projected that Bennu, an asteroid a little over the size of the Empire State Building, will not collide with the Earth for at least the next century.
Despite a previous estimate by scientists, there is now a 1-in-1,750 chance of an asteroid collision, which is a slightly higher likelihood than their prior report. Tracking the orbital path of Bennu has become greatly improved for scientists, according to the New York Times.
Although the chances of a possible crash from Bennu are zero in the next century, the determination of its course gets a little hazy in the year 2135. Scientists have concluded that in that year, the asteroid will not hit Earth, but it will come very close, traveling within a 125,000-mile range.
The precise distance of the Bennu asteroid is an integral component because according to planetary scientists, the Earth’s gravity will “slingshot” the asteroid once it goes by. If the asteroid passes a certain distance in a specific time frame, a “gravitational keyhole” could occur, in which Bennu’s path could intersect with Earth 50 years later.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft has spent two years evaluating Bennu firsthand. OSIRIS-REX departed Bennu about three months prior and is now returning back to Earth with samples of rocks and dirt that it gathered from the asteroid so that it can be examined by scientists.
During the period in which the spacecraft was in orbit around the asteroid, scientists were able to locate Bennu’s orbit, which allowed them to enhance the approximation of the asteroid’s position in 2135 by a factor of 20.
According to scientists, if an asteroid had a high probability of colliding with Earth, they could deflect the asteroid back into space so that it does not crash into the planet.
Currently, NASA is launching an experimental study using the deflection strategy in 2022 with an asteroid named Didymos. They aim to send the Double Asteroid Redirect Test spacecraft to push it off its orbit. NASA is expected to launch the spacecraft sometime this year.