Killer asteroid Bennu is heading our way, and there's nothing we can do to stop it wiping out life, say experts

Killer asteroid Bennu is heading our way, and there's nothing we can do to stop it wiping out life, say experts

Asteroid impacts on Earth have been surprisingly common in our planet's history. But few have posed as big a threat as Bennu

Not that it would matter for those living on Earth currently but September 25, 2135, could mark a watershed moment for Earth and humanity as a whole.

Why? Because it could very well mark the day that all life is extinguished because of a collision with a 500-meter (1,640 feet) long asteroid which is hurtling around our sun and may make a beeline for our planet.

The asteroid in question has been christened 101955 Bennu or Bennu for short, with those who pay close attention to NASA developments recognizing that this is the very same piece of space rock that the agency is attempting to collect a piece of through its OSIRIS-REx mission; a part of the reason Bennu was chosen in the first place is that scientists recognize the possibility that the asteroid may crash into the planet, with its proximity to Earth, size, and composition also factoring into their decision. 

Bennu is close to 500m in length (Source: Twitter)
Bennu is close to 500m in length (Source: Twitter)

The 79-billion kilogram Bennu currently has a 1 in 2,700 chance of striking Earth in 2135 and scientists are fretting over the fact that humanity's most advanced existing technology stands little to no chance at altering its path and avoiding an eventual doomsday.

All possible contingencies are being taken into consideration, especially keeping in mind that a collision with an asteroid of this size could wipe out the population of Earth, and researchers are looking into the possibility of sending a specially designed spacecraft to either alter the rock's course or launch a nuke that is capable of doing so in its stead. 

The OSIRIS-REx mission is set to collect a sample of Bennu (Source: NASA)
The OSIRIS-REx mission is set to collect a sample of Bennu (Source: NASA)

The former method involves the spacecraft or any other sufficiently large object becoming what is known as an impactor, whose task will be to alter the asteroid's course by, in simple terms, pushing back at it.

While choosing an approach involves taking into consideration numerous factors, most scientists agree that the latter option will work out to be humanity's best hope for survival in cases such as these where the asteroid is of considerable size. 

Buzzfeed News reports that scientists from NASA and the Nuclear Security Administration have detailed plans for dealing with the asteroid in a new paper.

It involves an 8.8-ton HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation for Emergency Response) which will perform the aforementioned role of an impactor.

Will Earth be hit by Bennu? (Source: Pinterest)
Will Earth be hit by Bennu? (Source: Pinterest)

The Daily Mail cited statements from the authors who wrote the study in the journal Acta Astronautica which stated: "Whenever practical, the kinetic impactor is the preferred approach, but various factors, such as large uncertainties or short available response time, reduce the impactor's suitability and ultimately, eliminate its sufficiency."

Explaining how they may pick their approach further, David Dearborn of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told Buzzfeed: "If the asteroid is small enough, and we detect it early enough, we can do it with the impactor. The impactor is not as flexible as the nuclear option when we really want to change the speed of the body in a hurry."

Bennu's impact would release 80,000 times the energy of Little Boy (Source: Pinterest)
Bennu's impact would release 80,000 times the energy of Little Boy (Source: Pinterest)

The progress these researchers make will be very important to the survival of humanity as a species, with the kinetic energy of Bennu's impact expected to be 1,200 megatons; i.e more than 80,000 times the energy of the Little Boy nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II; they will be presenting their proposal at a conference in Japan this May.

Earth has been regularly hit by asteroids for the past 4.6 billion years of its existence. A 6-mile long asteroid was widely believed to have wiped out dinosaurs 66 million years ago; the June 30, 1908, asteroid impact in the region surrounding the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia which destroyed 800 square miles of the forest and ripped 80 million trees from the ground; or the most recent 2013 airburst over Chelyabinsk, Russia, that broke windows all along its 300-mile passage.

Asteroid impacts are common (Source: Pinterest)
Asteroid impacts are common (Source: Pinterest)

If history is an indicator, the next asteroid impact is a matter of when and not if, and when that day comes, our survival will rest in the hands of the scientists who are working around the clock to ensure we have a future to look forward to. 

Here's how Twitter reacted to news of Bennu's potential impact:





 





  





 

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