Nasa deep space probe reaches asteroid deemed to be potential Earth threat

Published December 5, 2018
Launched in September 2016, Osiris-Rex embarked on Nasa’s unprecedented seven-year mission to conduct a close-up survey of the asteroid Bennu.
Launched in September 2016, Osiris-Rex embarked on Nasa’s unprecedented seven-year mission to conduct a close-up survey of the asteroid Bennu.

Orlando (Florida, US): Nasa’s deep space explorer Osiris-Rex flew on Monday to within a dozen miles of its destination, a skyscraper-sized asteroid believed to hold organic compounds fundamental to life as well as the potential to collide with Earth in about 150 years.

Launched in September 2016, Osiris-Rex embarked on Nasa’s unprecedented seven-year mission to conduct a close-up survey of the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample from its surface and return that material to Earth for study.

Bennu, a rocky mass roughly a third of a mile wide and shaped like a giant acorn, orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth and is thought to be rich in carbon-based organic molecules dating back to the earliest days of the solar system. Water, another vital component to the evolution of life, may also be trapped in the asteroid’s minerals.

Scientists believe that asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could help prove that theory.

But there is another, more existential reason to study Bennu.

Scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid slamming catastrophically into Earth 166 years from now. That probability ranks Bennu No. 2 on Nasa’s catalog of 72 near-Earth objects potentially capable of hitting the planet.

Osiris-Rex will help scientists understand how heat radiated from the sun is gently steering Bennu on an increasingly menacing course through the solar system.

That solar energy is believed to be nudging the asteroid ever closer toward Earth’s path each time the asteroid makes its closest approach to our planet every six years.

“By the time we collect the sample in 2020 we will have a much better idea of the probability that Bennu would impact Earth in the next 150 years,” mission spokeswoman Erin Morton said. Scientists have estimated that in 2135 Bennu could pass closer to Earth than the moon, which orbits at a distance of about 250,000 miles, and possibly come closer still some time between 2175 and 2195.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2018

Opinion

Budgeting without people

Budgeting without people

Even though the economy is a critical issue, discussions about it involve a select few who are not really interested in communicating with the people.

Editorial

Iranian tragedy
Updated 21 May, 2024

Iranian tragedy

Due to Iran’s regional and geopolitical influence, the world will be watching the power transition carefully.
Circular debt woes
21 May, 2024

Circular debt woes

THE alleged corruption and ineptitude of the country’s power bureaucracy is proving very costly. New official data...
Reproductive health
21 May, 2024

Reproductive health

IT is naïve to imagine that reproductive healthcare counts in Pakistan, where women from low-income groups and ...
Wheat price crash
Updated 20 May, 2024

Wheat price crash

What the government has done to Punjab’s smallholder wheat growers by staying out of the market amid crashing prices is deplorable.
Afghan corruption
20 May, 2024

Afghan corruption

AMONGST the reasons that the Afghan Taliban marched into Kabul in August 2021 without any resistance to speak of ...
Volleyball triumph
20 May, 2024

Volleyball triumph

IN the last week, while Pakistan’s cricket team savoured a come-from-behind T20 series victory against Ireland,...