Asteroid Bennu is a massive space rock that has a chance to one day impact the Earth, creating a catastrophic chain reaction that could destroy entire countries.
It’s big. It is weird. But strangely, while it has a slight chance to impact our planet, the asteroid itself can help us understand a lot about the solar system and life in general.
That’s why NASA decided to send out a spacecraft to study the monstrous space rock.
And earlier this month, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft finally reached Bennu after traveling more than a billion miles. It will spend more than a year analyzing and studying the space rock after which it will lower to its surface, and using a mechanical arm, collect soil samples from the asteroid and return them to Earth for further studies.
As explained by Space.com, “In 2023, this relatively hefty sample should make it back to Earth, where researchers in laboratories around the globe will analyze the material in a number of ways.”
Scientists believe that the massive space rock contains the building blocks of life.
This means that obtaining samples from its surface is of great importance and will allow astrophysicists to test out their theories that asteroids act as massive transporters, carrying chemicals and the necessary elements for life, from planet to planet, sparking the genesis of living organisms.
The asteroid is considered a potential bringer of destruction but is also perhaps the ringer of life. This confusing fact is why scientists think it’s of great importance to understand everything we can about the space rock.
If such a space rock were to impact us, it would release more energy than all of the nuclear weapons detonated in the history of mankind. The energy unleashed by such an impact would be equivalent to around 1,200 megatons, which is up to 80,000 times the energy produced by the Hiroshima bomb.
The asteroid has a weight of 79 billion kilograms.
Luckily for us, as of now, astrophysicists calculate there is a 1 in 2,700-chance of striking Earth between 2175 and 2199. These are relatively small odds, so there is no need to worry about any immediate impact, however, the asteroid’s trajectory could change in the future, which is why NASA wants to understand this type of space rock better.
And while Bennu won’t be approaching Earth anytime soon, NASA is already preparing for other potentially hazardous asteroids on an impact route to Earth.
Part of their planetary defense unit, they’ve come up with HAMMER.
HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response vehicle) is a spacecraft designed to blow up asteroids using nukes or alter their trajectory, preventing them from impacting the Earth.
However, when it comes down to an asteroid the size of Bennu, one HAMMER will probably be unable to deflect Bennu, which means that scientists would need to rely on nuclear weapons.