So, here’s the deal: there’s an asteroid called Bennu that comes around every six years, and each time it passes by on its way to the sun, it gets really close to hitting the Earth. Like pants-shittingly close, rescue-the-damsel-tied-to-the-tracks-in-the-nick-of-time close in space terms.
Because Bennu gets that close to the Earth, it’s been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) because its trajectory toward the sun is within 1.3 astronomical units (the distance between the Earth and the sun), and a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) because, well, it’s a NEO and it’s big enough (at least 460 feet) to cause some serious damage to us. Serious damage to the tune of 200 atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
But it turns out there’s no need to worry. First of all, the good thing is that nope, this probably won’t happen for at least another 150 years, by which time the only thing left of us to pulverize is our bones and ashes. And when Bennu does pass by (like passing in between the Earth and the moon) something has to nudge it so that it collides with us, which may or may not happen because gravity is weird like that sometimes.
And the better thing is that science has gotten much better in tracking asteroids (NASA is expected to be 90% accurate in tracking PHAs) so by the time we have to do something about Bennu, we’ll most likely have already figured it out. NASA, which is also doing pretty well at visiting comets and asteroids, is sending a probe, OSIRIS-REx, to Bennu on September 8 to gather some data about the big hunk of rock.
They’ll then use that data to find out how we can stop it. Maybe it involves a powerful laser beam. Maybe it involves sending a team of astronauts to detonate the asteroid. Maybe it involves an Aerosmith song, too.
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