NASA scientists are predicting a chance that asteroid Bennu will strike Earth in the future, potentially affecting an area the size of Texas.
Bennu is a Near-Earth Object (NEO) that passes by the planet roughly every six years, and experts have been watching it since it was discovered in September 1999.
According to scientists, Bennu has a chance to pass through what they call a “gravity keyhole,” which would send it on a collision course with Earth in the year 2182.
A new paper from the OSIRIS-REx science team predicts Bennu has a 0.037% chance (1 in 2,700) of hitting Earth; this will largely depend on another flyby. In 2135, Bennu will zoom past Earth just close enough that our planet’s gravitational pull could affect it in just the right way to put it on a path to hit us on Sept. 24, 2182 — almost 159 years to the day from this writing.
Visualization depicting the 2182 Bennu-Earth flyby. Bennu’s location in 2182 will vary depending on how the 2135 flyby occurs. Two representations of Bennu are depicted. The white dot represents an Earth-miss and the grey dot represents an extremely unlikely (1:2700 or 0.037% chance) Earth impact. Earth’s orbit is represented in light blue. (Video from NASA)
The Bennu asteroid is a third of a mile wide, roughly three city blocks. It could affect an area the size of Texas by its impact. Bennu, however, is still far smaller than the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, which is said to have been six miles wide.
While much smaller, IFLS.com says the impact would unleash 1,200 megatons of energy — 24 times more powerful than any man-made nuclear weapon.
“We’ve never modeled an asteroid’s trajectory to this precision before,” said Davide Farnocchia, the study lead from the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.
“The OSIRIS-REx data give us so much more precise information, we can test the limits of our models and calculate the future trajectory of Bennu to a very high degree of certainty through 2135,” Farnocchia added.